DR Congo

WHO gets foreign aid for DRC victims, but more needed to curb health threats

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News Release WHO/41

4 November, 2008 | GOMA/GENEVA - Increasing quantities of medical supplies are being provided by foreign governments to save lives in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, but the World Health Organization (WHO) is calling for more support to meet urgent health needs.

The Government of Norway today confirmed it will provide almost 30 tonnes of medicines to treat up to 150 000 people for diarrhoeal diseases, trauma and other critical conditions for a month. Norway is also sending eight sets of water purification equipment to provide clean drinking water for at least 60 000 people.

This follows the Italian Government's commitment last week to send 10 tonnes of medical supplies to treat up to 60 000 patients for multiple conditions, including diarrhoeal diseases and malaria for one month.

"The World Health Organization is extremely grateful for the aid it is receiving from our partners," said Dr Eric Laroche, Assistant Director-General for WHO's Health Action in Crises Cluster. "But it is essential that foreign medical support increases if we are going to save the lives of thousands affected in the DRC crisis."

WHO is sending two epidemiologists and two logisticians from Geneva to support its eight national staff in North Kivu and six in South Kivu.

The crisis is centred on North Kivu, which has a population of more than 5 million people including 1.5 million people displaced by the latest emergency and previous long-running hostilities. In the first nine months of 2008, North Kivu suffered three epidemics of cholera and measles. The recent escalation of violence has been followed by an increase in confirmed cases and deaths linked to these illnesses, which are highly fatal and can spread rapidly within displaced populations if adequate health care is unavailable. In complex emergencies that cause massive population displacement, the case fatality rate for measles can be as high as 30%.

Separately, WHO launched an emergency heath response plan to treat the affected populations in North and South Kivu, where under 80% of the population is not fully vaccinated. Fears are high that measles and diarrhoeal disease outbreaks could compound health woes facing those displaced by ongoing insecurity.

The plan identifies three key health problems: insufficient levels of care for the displaced; the risk of a cholera outbreak; and the threat of a measles epidemic. Medicines, equipment, vaccination programmes and personnel are needed to provide 2.5 million displaced and locals with quality health care and detect and respond to all cholera, measles and whooping cough outbreaks within 72 hours. The plan also says 100 000 expectant mothers need urgent obstetric and neonatal care, while malaria protection is also needed for them and almost 500 000 children aged under five.

For further information or interviews contact:

Paul Garwood
Communications Officer
WHO, Health Action in Crises, Geneva
Telephone: +41 22 791 3462
Mobile: +41 794 755546
E-mail: garwoodp@who.int