The World Health Organization (WHO) today raised growing alarm over the urgent health needs that over 80 million people in the greater Horn of Africa are facing due to the combination of increased food insecurity, hunger and malnutrition.
“Over 80 million people in the horn of Africa are facing food insecurity not seen in decades, as millions of people are at risk of starvation”, said Dr Ibrahima Soce FALL, WHO Assistant Director-General for Emergencies while speaking at a press briefing at the United Nations in Geneva. “The combination of increased food insecurity, hunger and malnutrition are causing a complex, unrecognized health emergency”.
WHO launched today a funding appeal for $US 123.7 million to carry out urgent lifesaving work until December 2022.
According to WHO’s Dr. Fall, the role of health in the response to famine crisis has often been underrecognized. “It is very unfortunate that people’s access to health care is more restricted because they are on the move in search of food, water, pasture and they may also have to make hard choices like between buying food and going to see a doctor ».
WHO is working to detect and respond to outbreaks of diseases such as measles, cholera and meningitis, some of which are already happening in a number of countries.
“Our main focus is to make sure that severely malnourished children who are sick get the care they need. Life-saving supplies, and drugs and equipment are available”, said Dr. Fall who was speaking via zoom from Dakar, Senegal.
WHO has intensified the response in 7 affected countries: Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan and Uganda.
“The big problem we are having at this moment is that, contrary to previous crises, the prevention on the food security side is not being funded enough », said Dr Sophie MAES, WHO’s Incident Manager, Drought and food insecurity crisis in the greater Horn of Africa. “Normally what you do in this kind of situation is you do blanket supplementary feeding so that people don’t slide further into malnutrition. This is not being well funded at the moment.”
An acute food insecurity crisis is also a health crisis because health risks like malnutrition, disease and outbreaks have increased and secondly, people have less access to health care just when they need it the most.
“The effects on health are doubled », according to Dr. Maes. «The health risks are going up with this synergy between disease and malnutrition, really making people much more vulnerable because people who are malnourished become more easily sick, and sick people become even more easily malnourished. That is one thing, then secondly, there is a real real lack of clean water, so there is a much higher risk of waterborne diseases.”
WHO’s stressed that the role of health in the response to famine crises has been often underrecognized.
People in the search for food and water are more prone to be exposed to the risk of violence, especially gender based violence.
“People are desperate to get money, so there is survival sex going on. There is more violence fighting for the meager resources,” said Dr. Maes.