AFRICA —A new World Health Organization analysis of seven countries in the greater Horn of Africa region finds disease outbreaks and climate-related emergencies have reached their highest level this century.

The new WHO analysis finds that of the seven countries in the greater Horn of Africa – Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, and Uganda – recorded 39 reported outbreaks, flooding, and other acute public health events between 1 January and 30 October 2022.

This is already the highest annual reported number since 2000, with two months left in the year.

Anthrax, measles, cholera, yellow fever, chikungunya, meningitis, and other infectious disease outbreaks account for more than 80% of reported acute public health events, with drought, flooding, and other disasters accounting for the remaining 18%.

Dr. Egmond Evers, the WHO’s Incident Manager for Greater Horn of Africa Food Insecurity and Health, said the food insecurity crisis in the region also is a health crisis, and that these twin disasters are interrelated.

Millions of children under the age of five are estimated to be suffering from acute malnutrition, putting them at risk not only of starvation but also of severe outcomes during a disease outbreak due to weakened immunity.

Children who are malnourished are more vulnerable to common childhood diseases. Malnutrition is responsible for 45% of all deaths of children under 5 years worldwide.

Evers said lack of food also leads to increased displacement. People who suffer from food insecurity, he said, leave their homes in search of something to eat.

He notes this makes the region’s more than 18 million refugees and internally displaced people particularly vulnerable to illness and death.

Drought is not the region’s only extreme weather event. Sudan and South Sudan have experienced widespread torrential rains in recent weeks.

According to the WHO, South Sudan is experiencing its fourth consecutive year of flooding, with an estimated 40% of the country under water.

Floods affect water systems that make the spread of diseases like cholera easier, the casing point being Malawi which is fighting to contain the spread of the disease.

Uganda is currently battling an Ebola outbreak that has seen the country confirm 131 cases and 48 deaths.

In Nigeria, more than 2.8 million people have been affected by the country’s worst floods in a decade, with 1.3 million displaced and several lives lost, according to the United Nations.

The dire conditions in the greater Horn of Africa are a perfect storm for outbreaks, which unless we act quickly will flare up with increasing intensity,” said Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa.

To mount an effective emergency response to the crisis on our doorstep, we need US$124 million, but have only received 34% of our request up to now.”

Dr. Moeti noted that climate change is having an impact here and now on the health of Africans in the greater Horn of Africa, and called for African leaders to reach an agreement on stemming the rise in temperatures at the 27th United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP27) which is taking place in Africa.

Moreover, Dr. Evers noted that WHO urgently needs partners to come together to support the food insecurity response in the region.

In response to the deepening health crisis, WHO is focused on ensuring that vulnerable populations, especially children have access to essential health services, protecting populations from diseases through immunization campaigns, detecting and responding to outbreaks and providing treatment for severe acute malnutrition, among other actions.

WHO has mobilized over US$7 million in supplies and equipment for the greater Horn of Africa including US$3 million in kits to severe malnutrition, or diseases such as cholera and measles.

The Organization has also trained thousands of health workers across the region on the management of acute malnutrition.

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