By Ivan Kimbowa
Uganda-Africa. The number of reported deadly outbreaks and climate-related health emergencies in seven countries that form the greater Horn Africa are considered to be the highest in the 21st century, says a new analysis by World Health Organisation (WHO) 2022.
Simultaneously, the report indicates that 47 million people in most parts of the region are already facing acute hunger and battling the worst drought in at least 40 years.
Still, the unprecedented fifth rainy season failure is now anticipated while other parts of the region face flooding and conflict.
Dr Moeti Matshidiso, the WHO Regional Director for Africa, says that climate change is having an impact on the health of people in the greater Horn of Africa – Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan and Uganda.
“The failure of four consecutive rainy seasons has scorched the earth and pushed people out of their homes in search of food and water,” explains Matshidiso.
Since the 27th United Nations Climate Change conference (COP27) is hosted on the African continent (Egypt), Matshidiso looks at it as an opportunity for world leaders to critically look at the rising global temperatures and find ways to curtailing it.
“As a continent we are the least responsible for global warming, but among the first to experience its tragic impact,” noted Matshidiso.
He analysis recorded 39 reported outbreaks, flooding and other acute public health events between January 1, and October 30, 2022 which is the already the highest annual reported number since 2000, with just less than two months left to complete the year.
Such outbreaks as anthrax, measles, cholera, yellow fever, chikungunya, meningitis, and other infectious diseases account for more than 80% of the acute public health events reported, with drought, flooding and other disasters accounting for 18%, according to Matshidiso.
Millions of children under the age of five years are estimated to be facing acute malnutrition, increasing their risk of not only starvation, but also of severe outcomes during a disease outbreak due to weakened immunity.
In the analysis, malnourished children are more susceptible to common childhood diseases since 45% of children under-5 deaths are associated with malnutrition globally.
In the past four years, says Matshidiso, the number of people facing acute hunger in the greater Horn of Africa have more than doubled and it’s every one’s responsibility to prevent it.
“Between malnutrition and death there is often disease. 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,” he adds.
“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.”
WHO further highlights that Vaccination coverage in the region of life-saving childhood vaccines is well below the necessary threshold to prevent disease outbreaks.
In most countries of the region, measles vaccination coverage is too low to prevent cases and all greater Horn of Africa countries have had to deal with measles outbreaks in 2022.
However, the organization says that drought is not the only extreme weather event the region is fighting. South Sudan is experiencing its fourth consecutive year of flooding with 40% of the country under water.
As per the report, heavy rains and flash floods continue to affect tens of thousands of people across neighbouring Sudan since the floods have destroyed or damaged thousands of houses and tens of health facilities, water sources, and latrines in 15 states.
Additionally, livestock and a wide area of agricultural land have been affected by floods, which contribute to food insecurity.
According to the WHO, food shortage/hunger has forced people to flee their homes and the region now has 4.5 million refugees and asylum seekers as well as 12.7 million internally displaced people. This is attributed to flooding and drought, coupled with conflict, the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic and high food and fuel prices.
It is further explained that the displacement of people often means they will miss out on the healthcare they need, including preventive care. And crowded temporary shelters with poor water and sanitation conditions can contribute to an increased risk of outbreaks.
In response to the deepening health crisis, WHO maintains and commits its focus 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.
Dr. Evers Egmond is the acting Incident Manager for WHO greater Horn of Africa response. He says the orgnisation 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 in addition to training thousands of health workers across the region on the management of acute malnutrition.
Egmond adds that WHO urgently needs partners to come together to support the food insecurity response in the region. “We must ensure a strong health response to prevent disease and death from health risks related to food insecurity,” he noted.
Still, he noted, there is a need for more essential medical equipment and supplies, vaccines, medicines, and kits to support essential health services. “We must step up critical actions like vaccinations and improve surveillance to prevent outbreaks from getting out of hand. We cannot delay any longer. We must act now.”
State Of Ebola outbreak Uganda
In Uganda, emergency response to Ebola Virus Disease outbreak is in high gear with the Ministry of Health in partnership with W.H.O, US Mission Uganda, and other development partners.
So far, the recent report from the health ministry, Uganda has registered 132 cumulative cases of Ebola of which 51, including six health workers, have died. However, there are 61 recoveries.
Meanwhile, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) is calling for more funding to be able to support in health systems strengthening and improving contact tracing in addition to activating and strengthening community health structures in Ebola response, social mobilization as well as delivering sensitization through mass media.