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UN urges help for health sector in war-stricken West Africa

UN urges help for health sector in war-stricken West Africa

As years of conflict and civil unrest continue to weaken the health sector in West Africa, the United Nations lead health agency today called for immediate donor support in order to avoid a total break down of the region's systems.

The World Health Organization (WHO) issued a joint Action Plan to alleviate human suffering in crisis-shaken West Africa during a three-day meeting in Accra with regional health officials. According to the agency, the proposed plan focuses on enhancing coordination, disease surveillance and emergency response. It also includes health worker training, surveillance of the population's nutritional status and supply of essential drugs and vaccines. To help implement these activities, WHO said it needs a total of $3.5 million for the next nine months.

"WHO urges donors to respond to the humanitarian disaster in West Africa," Dr. Melville George, WHO's Representative in Ghana, told the meeting. "We must take immediate action to assist countries to deal with the crisis."

The meeting was organized as part of a UN situation analysis mission led by Carolyn McAskie, Secretary General Kofi Annan's Humanitarian Envoy to the crisis in Côte d' Ivoire. The ongoing political turmoil has disrupted the health system in the northern part of that country where more than 85 per cent of health workers have given up their homes and jobs. Bordering countries are also suffering related effects, with the mass movement of populations from Côte d'Ivoire to Liberia, Ghana, Burkina Faso, Mali and Guinea. Health services have not had a chance to prepare for such an influx.

The health status of all West African countries remains far below minimum standards and epidemics, such as cholera, diarrhoea, yellow fever and meningitis, have caused devastation in the region. Malaria kills thousands of children each year and HIV/AIDS spreads rapidly among the civilian population and refugees.