Chief of UN health agency calls for prompt response to food crisis in southern Africa
"People's survival and sustainable development are at stake. Our actions today have the potential to save hundreds of thousands of lives, and to shape the future of this sub-region," Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland, the Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), said Tuesday at a meeting of health ministers from 10 southern African countries and senior WHO officials to examine the health sector's response to the acute and large-scale humanitarian crisis facing the region.
"We should work for lasting improvements in primary health services," she stressed. "We want to enable the people affected by this crisis to be able to look forward to healthy livelihoods once the worst is over. We want health services to have improved - not deteriorated - after the crisis is over."
The WHO chief described the crisis as a severe blow to the millions of people affected, and to the development efforts of governments of the region. The crisis was also reversing many gains achieved by several southern African countries in health development and in poverty reduction.
An estimated 13 million people are caught up in the food crisis in Mozambique, Zambia, Lesotho, Zimbabwe, Swaziland and parts of Mozambique, as many as 300,000 additional people could die of preventable causes in the next six months if the most vulnerable were not helped.
Famine had serious health implications because food shortages were followed by illness, Dr. Brundtland said. "The solution [to famine] is food supplies, but to be effective, food aid must be combined with health services," she said. "The people weakened by hunger can survive by receiving the treatment they need for diseases that otherwise will cost them their lives."