UN musters partners to fight health risks threatening millions in East African floods

20 December 2006

With increased risks of cholera, dysentery, measles and malaria threatening millions of people in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia due to severe drought followed by the worst floods in recent memory, the United Nations health agency has called for concerted action to ensure the continuation of vital services including vaccination programmes.

With increased risks of cholera, dysentery, measles and malaria threatening millions of people in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia due to severe drought followed by the worst floods in recent memory, the United Nations health agency has called for concerted action to ensure the continuation of vital services including vaccination programmes.

“The health risks and the operational challenges are daunting and call for a commensurate mobilization of resources,” the UN World Health Organization (WHO) said in its latest update on the crisis, noting that it was mobilizing its own “surge capacity” to strengthen its presence at regional, country and field levels in line with evolving needs and the displacement of hundreds of thousands of people.

“Preliminary estimates are that the health and life-saving aspects of the operation may demand from the Health Cluster [WHO and its partners] as much as $5 per beneficiary per month,” it added.

The agency said that at this early stage, it was looking at an affected population of about 2 million as far as immediate and medium term threats are concerned, but severe food shortages caused by the prolonged drought throughout the region are affecting up to 8.5 million people. Outbreaks of diarrhoeal diseases have been reported in Ethiopia and Kenya amid a lack of clean drinking water and sanitation.

The risks of outbreaks have been exacerbated by population displacement and gatherings in camps as well as by the interruption of programmes which are critical for global health such as polio eradication.

“In this context, WHO, as the leader of the Global Health Cluster, is calling on all concerned partners to harmonize their activities around three strategic objectives,” the agency said.

It cited the need to counter the immediate risk of outbreaks of communicable diseases; prepare for all contingencies over the next six months in light of increased political tensions and social distress, population movements and new weather vagaries and epidemics; and strengthen public health programmes such as polio control so that they can operate in an increasingly difficult environment.

Specific measures include monitoring priority health threats to ensure early warning and response; speedy coordination both nationally and across borders; identifying and filling gaps that can kill people or limit effective delivery of care such as equitable access to medicines, health workers, safe water and sanitation; and strengthening and integrating national capacities into the cluster approach.

Citing “the common humanitarian goal of reducing avoidable death and suffering,” WHO pledged its technical and advocacy services to all.

 

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