Djibouti + 5 more

OCHA Humanitarian Newsmaker: Vol 1, Issue 2 - Apr 2007

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News and Press Release
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783 deaths confirmed in CEA region:

Meningitis Epidemic Hits Central and East Africa

The Meningitis epidemic that began earlier this year in West Africa is now taking its toll in the Central and East Africa region (excl. Chad) with a total of 783 deaths and 12,765 confirmed or suspected cases by the end of March in Kenya, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Uganda, Central African Republic, Ethiopia, and North and South Sudan.

Governments, UN agencies and NGOs are responding to the outbreak that occurs in the so-called Meningitis Belt stretching from Senegal in West Africa to Ethiopia in the East. In West Africa (incl. Chad), nine countries have already been affected by the highly contagious disease. 8,557 cases and 798 deaths have been reported across the West African region, according to information released by OCHA West Africa in March.

In the Central and East Africa region, Sudan is by far the most affected area with 8,072 cases and 496 deaths as of 18 March 2007.

The total population in the Meningitis Belt is some 300 million.

The disease is spread by close human contact, coughing, sneezing, living in closed quarters and sharing for instance cooking utensils. Outbreaks are worst during dry seasons because the dust and cold irritates the respiratory system making it vulnerable to infection.

Vaccination campaigns are currently being conducted in countries such as Uganda, DRC, and Sudan in response to the epidemic. Previous campaigns across the Meningitis Belt may no longer be effective as the vaccine against Meningitis - a recurrent or cyclical disease - is only effective for three years.

A WHO expert points out that there are gaps in the response mainly due to lack of effective surveillance and early detection systems, and due to shortages of health workers in many countries. There is also a shortage of funds to buy and stockpile the antibiotic oily chloramphenicol which is recommended by WHO for treatment of Meningitis in Africa. Access to vaccines may also be problematic as well as obtaining confirmation of the disease through sampling.

Track the Meningitis epidemic: www.who.int/csr/don/en

Somalia crisis deepens:

96,000 Have Fled Mogadishu

96,000 people have left Mogadishu since February - 47,000 of them during the last ten days of March - according to the UN refugee agency UNHCR.

This is in addition to an existing estimated country-wide caseload of 400,000 long-term displaced, reports OCHA Somalia. It represents the fifth major wave of displacement in the

last year, as people have fled conflict, drought and flooding. An influx of IDPs into any location places additional strain on the already scarce resources of local communities, increasing the vulnerability of all concerned.

The Somali population including IDPs, urban poor and agropastoralists is extremely vulnerable due to a combination of chronic food insecurity, continuing high malnutrition rates, the presence of Acute Watery Diarrhea (AWD) and ongoing conflict mainly in Mogadishu.

Humanitarian access to vulnerable populations in South and Central Somalia - especially new IDP populations on the outskirts of Mogadishu and in neighbouring Lower Shabelle - is minimal or non-existent due to insecurity.

UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
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