Health risks add to crisis in Ethiopia

Friday, July 25, 2008

Worsening malnutrition and the threat of disease outbreaks are compounding Ethiopia's humanitarian crisis. WHO is working with the Government of Ethiopia and health partners to support the 4.6 million people needing urgent emergency food relief nationwide.

The number of people who need food assistance is increasing noticeably in Ethiopia. Health risks are being compounded by the global food security crisis, the impact of drought on agricultural production and the country's weak health system. During the coming months, annual rains are expected to again cause large-scale flooding, increasing loss of crops and risk of disease.

"In humanitarian terms, the situation is unacceptable," said Dr Eric Laroche, Assistant Director-General for WHO's Health Action in Crises. "The health of millions of Ethiopians is worsening by the day, and the international community must act to support the country's government to ease this terrible suffering."

Growing demand for feeding centres

In three regions alone (Somali, SNNP and Eastern Oromiya), the number of government-run feeding centres has risen from 200 three months ago to 605 today. Some 75 000 children aged under 5 need therapeutic and supplementary nutrition support. WHO, UNICEF and nongovernmental organizations are supporting these centres.

Additional major factors affecting people’s health and livelihoods are a lack of access to safe drinking water, shortages of drugs and medical supplies and insufficient human resources. The areas affected by shortages are also at significant risk of disease outbreaks: diarrhoeal diseases, measles and meningitis. Cases of acute watery diarrhoea have been reported in 16 districts, and outbreaks of cerebrospinal meningitis in 37 districts. More than 7000 cases of measles have been registered in 38 districts.

WHO is working with Federal and regional government partners, UN agencies and nongovernmental organizations to:

• provide better health and nutrition services throughout Ethiopia using emergency mobile teams;
• deploy drugs, medical and nutrition supplies and staff for emergency action;
• plan the rolling out of outpatient therapeutic programmes; and
• strengthen disease and nutritional surveillance systems to enable rapid response.
WHO's response efforts include:
• strengthening disease and nutritional surveillance, particularly for severe acute malnutrition;
• preventing measles via immunization activities, including vaccinations and vitamin A supplementation;
• training and support for health staff and strengthening systems to address health needs;
• promoting water treatment, hygiene and sanitation interventions to stop the spread of acute watery diarrhoea and other communicable diseases; and
• providing urgently needed drugs and medical supplies to support health services and therapeutic feeding programmes.