ETHIOPIA — The Somali Regional Health Bureau (RHB) in collaboration with WHO, the United Nations High Commission on Refugees, and health partners have stepped up to facilitate timely health response to the refugees in the Dollo Zone.

The refugee crisis in Ethiopia’s Somali Region is currently at a critical juncture. The Dollo Zone, where the refugees are hosted, is facing the worst drought in over 40 years in the greater Horn of Africa.

Since the beginning of February 2023, approximately 100 000 refugees arrived in Ethiopia from Somalia and “are in dire need of humanitarian assistance”, World Health Organization (WHO) said mentioning its support to the refugees.

As a result, there has been a severe impact on the health of thousands of households, including an increase in children with acute malnutrition, high population movement and displacement of the pastoralists in search of water, and a heightened risk of disease outbreaks.

The refugee crisis has been compounded by the ongoing drought in East Africa and has caused immense suffering to the people living in the region, particularly in Somalia, which has been hit the hardest.

The Somali region is currently facing multiple disease outbreaks, with vaccine-preventable diseases widespread and malnutrition rampant.

The situation is dire, with the United Nations warning that one person in East Africa is estimated to die every 48 seconds due to the drought. This is a staggering figure that highlights the severity of the crisis.

The situation is further exacerbated by the ongoing measles outbreak in Danond district of Dollo Zone, which increases the risk of spread to vulnerable populations, including the refugees.

The cholera outbreak has also been ongoing in Liban, another zone that hosts a group of Somali refugees.

The overstretched health system is struggling to cater to the thousands of refugees, providing delivery services for pregnant mothers, immunization for young children, management of severe acute malnutrition, and prevention of vaccine-preventable diseases to reduce deaths.

WHO is co-chairing the health sector coordination platform in collaboration with the Somali RHB at the subnational and zonal levels, which facilitates health sector assessments, planning, and response.

As the Acting WHO Representative to Ethiopia, Dr. Nonhlanhla Dlamini highlights the urgent need for increased partner presence and robust coordination mechanisms to support the government’s response in a well-coordinated approach.

With the current influx of refugees from Somalia into the Somali region of Ethiopia, the humanitarian response is already stretched by concurrent challenges.

The World Health Organization has delivered interagency emergency health kits and severe acute malnutrition treatment kits to all the health facilities in Dollo Zone.

It has also redeployed staff and brought on board more technical experts in response to the health crisis in the region.

Despite these efforts, more needs to be done to address the humanitarian crisis in Somalia. Urgent action is needed to provide relief and humanitarian assistance to refugees and host communities.

The United Nations estimates that US$101 million is needed for the next nine months to provide this assistance.

The WHO alone requires US$5.86 million to provide health assistance and ensure the continuity of basic health services for affected communities in the Dollo Zone of Ethiopia’s Somali region.

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