WHO intensifies response to looming health crisis in Greater Africa as food insecurity worsens

WHO expands operations in East Africa as the region faces acute food insecurity caused by conflict, extreme weather events – including the worst drought in 40 years – caused by climate change, rising international food and fuel prices and the impact of the pandemic.

More than 80 million people in the East African region are insecure and resort to desperate measures to feed themselves and their families. Acute malnutrition is high, especially among children.

As malnutrition increases, health needs in the region increase, especially among children, and clean water becomes less and less. As people leave their homes in search of food, they no longer have access to health services and become more vulnerable to disease outbreaks.

“The cost of inaction is high,” said Dr. Ibrahima Sose Fol, WHO’s assistant director general for emergency response. “While the clear priority is to prevent people from starving, we must simultaneously strengthen our health response to prevent disease and save lives. Even a life lost to a vaccine-preventable disease, diarrhea or medical complications from malnutrition in today’s world is one life too many. ”

Dr. Fall spoke in Nairobi, where the WHO convened a two-day meeting [26-27 June 2022] to plan its response in the seven countries affected by the health emergency – Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan and Uganda – and to coordinate with other UN agencies and partners.

The WHO response to emergencies is focused on ensuring that affected populations have access to basic health services, treating sick children with severe malnutrition, and preventing, detecting and responding to outbreaks of infectious diseases.

The WHO is setting up a center in Nairobi to coordinate the response and arrange for the delivery of life-saving medical supplies where they are most needed. These supplies include medicines, vaccines, and medicines and equipment needed to treat children who are severely malnourished. In addition to providing these critical supplies, the WHO is working with the Ministries of Health in the countries concerned to establish robust disease surveillance systems so that it can quickly detect and respond to disease outbreaks.

Note to the editors

  • Four consecutive rainy seasons have failed in the region, a climate event unseen for at least 40 years. Recent forecasts show that there is now a concrete risk that the next rainy season will also fail (source: WMO).
  • More than 80 million people in the East African region are in food insecurity (source: WFP), where they have to resort to desperate measures to feed themselves and their families.
  • The situation is particularly urgent in drought-stricken areas of Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia, where food shortages mean that approximately 7 million children are malnourished, including more than 1.7 million who are severely malnourished (source: Unicef). Severe acute malnutrition is a life-threatening condition that requires urgent treatment.
  • Different countries are affected differently. In Uganda, for example, the problem is concentrated in the northeastern region, while in South Sudan more than 60% of the population is facing a famine crisis.
  • All seven countries (Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan and Uganda) are dealing with measles and cholera outbreaks.
  • All seven countries are endemic for malaria. Children are disproportionately affected by malaria, with 80% of malaria deaths in the African region among those under 5 years of age.
  • Four countries – Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan and Uganda – face outbreaks of meningococcal meningitis, a serious and potentially fatal bacterial infection.
  • This region has experienced years of conflict and displacement. 4.2 million people in the region are refugees and another 11.1 million are internally displaced (source: UNHCR).

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