Congo + 11 more

Emergencies cited as major threat to human health in Africa, as wars cost Region $15 billion per year

Brazzaville, 12 March 2003 - Emergency situations caused by wars, civil strife and natural disasters constitute some of the most serious threats to health in Africa, the World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Director for Africa, Dr Ebrahim Samba, said Wednesday in Brazzaville.

Dr Samba told WHO Officials and Country Representatives in Africa meeting in Brazzaville for the 30th session of their Regional Programme Meeting: "They (emergency situations) result in several hundreds of thousands of death, especially of children and women; vast population movements; malnutrition; and the wider propagation of diseases such as HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria, acute respiratory infections and intestinal disorders, not to mention sheer human suffering and several other communicable and noncommunicable diseases, including mental illnesses."

Other consequences of disasters include destruction of health structures, limited access to health minimum basic cares, food shortages (as is currently facing southern Africa and the Horn of Africa), poor access to drinking water and increasing chronic poverty, he said.

Dr Samba added that 23 out of the 46 countries in the WHO African Region were experiencing some kind of emergency which had now created more than nine million refugees and over 35 million internally displaced persons across the Africa.

"It is imperative for lasting solutions be found to Africa's wars and civil strife if the health of the people is to be protected and promoted in any meaningful way," he said.

In a presentation to the meeting, the Regional Adviser for Emergency and Humanitarian Action at the WHO Regional Office for Africa, Dr Komla Siamevi, put the economic losses due to wars only in Africa at $15 billion per year.

"This is a serious issue that needs to be addressed immediately," said Dr Siamevi, who also called for a paradigm shift in the perception and handing of emergency issues in the Region. This was because emergencies were now "endemic" in the Region, and all the countries were potentially vulnerable. He said that a sustainable solution would be for countries to build elements of emergency and humanitarian action into their health priorities and health development programmes.

WHO/AFRO has taken several measures to respond to various emergencies that have faced countries in the Region in recent times. These include technical support for assessment and response in affected countries; re-inforcement of the capacity of national health personnel for risk and vulnerability assessment; preparedness for adequate response for mitigation of the health consequences of the crisis; rehabilitation; support for the Consolidated Appeal Process; the establishment of inter-country teams in Abidjan, Harare and Nairobi, and recent establishment of a health team at the Johannesburg-based Regional Inter Agency Coordination Support Office for the humanitarian crisis facing southern Africa.

Other actions include support to countries affected by the humanitarian crisis in West Africa, support for inter-country technical cooperation, and the coordination of the implementation of all emergency preparedness response-related activities in the Region.

The current emergency situations currently facing various countries in the African Region include: armed conflicts; outbreak of haemorrhagic fevers and other epidemics; drought and famine; volcano eruption, hurricanes, wind storms and wild fires.

For further information, please contact

Youcef Ait-Chellouche, Emergency and Humanitarian Action Unit
Tel: + 1 321 953 9314;
Email: or

Samuel T. Ajibola, Public Information and Communication Unit
World Health Organization - Regional Office for Africa
P.O. Box 6 Brazzville, Congo.
Tel: 1 321 953 9378;
Fax: 1 321 953 9513