It focuses on emergency response, including the training of health workers, surveillance of the population's nutritional status and the provision of essential drugs and vaccines. "To help ensure these activities are implemented, WHO needs a total of US $3.5 million for a period of nine months," WHO reported on Friday.
WHO said that regional health officials met for three days in Accra, Ghana and finalised a coordinated response strategy. The meeting was part of a UN situation-analysis mission led by Carolyn McAskie, the UN Secretary General's Humanitarian Envoy for the crisis in Cote d'Ivoire.
Help avert total collapse, WHO urges donors
"WHO urges donors to respond to the humanitarian disaster in West Africa to avoid a total breakdown of the region's health systems," Melville George, WHO representative in Ghana, said. "We must take immediate action to assist countries to deal with the crisis. Health facilities need to be strengthened, disease surveillance must be improved and access to health care to the most vulnerable must be ensured."
According to WHO, the current co-ordination mechanisms for health interventions in the region are weak. The number of partner agencies, NGOs and ministries involved in health issues makes coordination of health-related activities in the region a major challenge, it said.
Some local health authorities recognise the need to strengthen the region's response capacity. "Surveillance of disease and agreed strategies for control are an essential component of preparing and responding to epidemics," Ghana's deputy minister of health, Moses Dani Baah, said at the meeting. "Presently, outbreaks of communicable diseases are detected late with disastrous consequences."
Health sector undermined by conflict, unrest
The health sector in West African countries has been weakened by years of conflict and civil unrest, WHO said: political instability and poor economic performance have eroded health services and as a result, the health status of the population remains below minimum standards; outbreaks of diseases such as cholera, diarrhoea, yellow fever and meningitis have severely affected the region; malaria kills thousands of children each year, and HIV/AIDS has spread rapidly, including among refugees.
"The ongoing political turmoil in Côte d'Ivoire since September 2002 disrupted the health system in the northern part of the country," it noted. "Eighty percent of Côte d'Ivoire's health infrastructure in the north is not operational and more than 85 percent of health workers have given up their homes and jobs. This exodus of health professionals means that government facilities are unable to offer minimum services."
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