Southern Africa urgently needs health services to combat humanitarian crisis, UN warns

Southern Africa urgently needs health services to combat humanitarian crisis, UN warns

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Four months after the first signs of an impending humanitarian catastrophe in southern Africa, several hundred thousand people may die because not enough funds have been provided to furnish basic relief, the United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) warned today, urging donors to do more to help stem the tide of death and disease.

In the worst-affected countries - Malawi, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Lesotho and Swaziland - as many as 300,000 malnourished people may die of diseases they might otherwise fight off, had they been given a minimum of food and basic health care, the agency told a meeting in Geneva.

Pointing out that southern Africa's current emergency is not just a food shortage but a comprehensive humanitarian crisis, WHO said that if donors help to provide health interventions with around $3.40 per person, the wave of death and disease now threatening nearly 14.5 million people could be averted. So far, known funding amounts to only 35 cents per person.

"The cruel irony is that we know how to save thousands of people, and are ready to do it, yet the world seems unwilling to pay the small cost of making it happen," said WHO Director-General Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland. "Money is needed to provide medicines, keep health workers in place, ensure therapeutic feeding, keep supply lines open, track the extent of suffering and plan the most effective response."

According to the agency, the risk of a woman dying in childbirth may have doubled in parts of Malawi in recent months, while in Zimbabwe the death rates from tuberculosis and acute respiratory infection have increased drastically in the last three years.

In calling on donors to support its efforts, WHO is urging priority attention to clean water and sanitation, therapeutic feeding and accessible health care.