Horn of Africa drought health sector response plan - 29 July 2011
The Horn of Africa (HoA) is facing its worst drought in decades. Over 12 million people need food aid and humanitarian assistance. According to UN officials, tens of thousands of people have already died, and acute malnutrition is widespread. Global acute malnutrition (GAM) rates in parts of Somalia's Bakool and Lower Shabelle regions are at 50%, with death rates exceeding 6 per 10 000 per day. The situation is exacerbated by the ongoing conflict in Somalia which has led to mass population displacements, as people flee both drought and warfare. GAM rates of 47% and severe acute malnutrition (SAM) rates of 35% were reported in Somali refugees arriving in Ethiopia's Dollo Ado camp. In Somali refugees arriving in Kenya (Dadaab), GAM and SAM were reported to be 30% and 18% respectively. These levels are all above the threshold of 10% wasting, reflecting the gravity of the situation.
Malnutrition not only increases the risk of contracting infectious diseases, it also increases disease severity and therefore the risk of death. This, added to being weak and stressed from displacement and fleeing from insecurity, along with poor prior health and immunization status and limited access to food, water, shelter and sanitation, will put these populations at high risk of contracting - and subsequently dying from - infectious diseases. Moreover, infectious diseases can also exacerbate malnutrition. This destructive cycle can be broken with appropriate nutritional support and medical care. Humanitarian interventions to improve access to food, water, shelter and health care services are essential. Specialized medical care is required to treat medical complications in children suffering from severe acute malnutrition. Moreover, emergency disease surveillance systems will be essential to monitor the health status of the population as well as detect and control disease outbreaks.