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To save lives, WHO rushes medical supplies to drought-ridden Ethiopia

Safe drinking water and child health targeted

The World Health Organization (WHO) has shipped a first batch of 54 new Emergency Health Kits to Ethiopia to strengthen the health sector response to the severe drought. Today, the kits arrived in Addis Ababa ready for immediate secondary distribution.

Thanks to funding from the Government of the Netherlands, WHO will be able to send a total of 164 Emergency Health Kits to Ethiopia in the coming weeks. These kits will provide 1.64 million people with basic health care supplies for a period of three months. An Emergency Health Kit is one ton of essential drugs, supplies and instruments, sufficient to support the basic health needs of 10 000 people. This first shipment comes only four weeks after Mr Meles Zenawi, Prime Minister of Ethiopia, launched an international appeal for help to avert a crisis that is threatening millions of people.

Poor rains between February and May 2002 have caused an acute shortage of water in several parts of Ethiopia. This year’s harvest is likely to be around 15 % less than the average annual yield. The crisis can spell death for hundreds of thousands of people. The Ethiopian Government expects as many as 14 million people, 20% of the total population, to be at extreme risk by March 2003.

“Widespread food shortages have appalling implications for people's health. To prevent it from worsening, the crisis must be tackled immediately through concerted, inter-sectoral action backed by sufficient funding,” said Dr Gro Harlem Brundtland, Director-General, WHO. “Together with our partners we are committed to do our utmost to save lives and reduce suffering in Ethiopia,” she said.

From similar past crises, the last one occurring in 2000, the international community has learnt that the health sector has a critical role to play in response to drought. WHO also received funding from the Government of Norway to assist the Ministry of Health in Ethiopia to carry out nutritional surveys, strengthen feeding programmes and assist with the rehabilitation of water supply systems. Funds from Sweden will be used to generally cover health needs in drought-affected areas.

“These activities are crucial to strengthen the country’s capacity to deal with the cruel health consequences of the drought,” said Dr Gro Harlem Brundtland. “In particular, safe drinking water is vital to prevent the spread of water-borne diseases,” she said.

Together with the Ethiopian Ministry of Health, WHO will implement campaigns for measles immunization and Vitamin A supplementation for children. Health workers will receive additional training in environmental sanitation, epidemic surveillance and response. These activities will benefit approximately 2,8 million people in the most affected areas of Afar, Amhara, Oromiya, Southern Nations, Nationalities and People’s region and Somali.

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For more information contact:

Melanie Zipperer
Telephone: (+41 22) 791 1344
Mobile phone: (+41) 79 477 1722
E-mail: zippererm@who.int

Ellen Egan
Telephone: (+41 22) 791 4037
Mobile phone: (+41 79) 4771712
E-mail: egane@who.int