WHO is intensifying its response to a looming health crisis in the wider Horn of Africa as food insecurity worsens
WHO is scaling up its operations in East Africa as the region faces acute food insecurity caused by conflict, extreme weather – including the worst drought in 40 years – caused by climate change, rising international food and fuel prices and the impact of the pandemic.
Over 80 million people in the East African region are food insecure and are resorting 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 scarce. As people leave their homes in search of food, they can no longer access health services and become increasingly at risk of disease outbreaks.
“The cost of inaction is high,” said Dr. Ibrahima Socé Fall, WHO’s Assistant Director-General for Emergency Response. “While the clear priority is to prevent people from going hungry, we must simultaneously strengthen our health response to prevent disease and save lives. Even one life lost to a vaccine-preventable disease, diarrhea or medical complications caused by malnutrition is one life too many in today’s world.”
dr. Fall was speaking in Nairobi where the WHO convened a two-day meeting [26-27 June 2022] plan its response in the seven countries affected by the health emergency – Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan and Uganda – and coordinate with other UN agencies and partners.
WHO’s emergency response focuses on ensuring that affected populations have access to basic health services, treating sick children with severe malnutrition, and preventing, detecting and responding to infectious disease outbreaks.
WHO is establishing a center in Nairobi, from where it will coordinate the response and organize the delivery of life-saving medical supplies to where they are needed most. These supplies include medicines, vaccines, as well as drugs and equipment needed to treat severely malnourished children. In addition to securing these critical supplies, WHO is working with ministries of health in affected countries to set up robust disease surveillance systems to rapidly detect and respond to disease outbreaks.
Note to editors
- The region has missed four consecutive rainy seasons, a climatic event not seen in the last 40 years. The latest forecasts show that there is now a concrete risk that the next rainy season could also fail (source: WMO).
- More than 80 million people in the East African region are food insecure (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 an estimated 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 immediate treatment.
- Different countries are affected differently. For example, in Uganda, the problem is concentrated in the northeastern region, while in South Sudan, more than 60% of the population is facing a hunger crisis.
- All seven countries (Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan and Uganda) are facing outbreaks of measles and cholera.
- All seven countries are malaria endemic countries. Children are disproportionately affected by malaria, and 80% of malaria deaths in the African region are among children under the age of 5.
- Four countries – Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan and Uganda – are facing outbreaks of meningococcal meningitis, a serious and potentially fatal bacterial infection.
- This area has gone through 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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