Somalia + 1 more

New roles underline commitment to east Africa

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Merlin is marking its success in Kenya and Somalia and its commitment to developing health services there by creating new posts to give a greater focus to each country.

The international medical charity has been in Kenya since 1998 and in Somalia since 2004.

Since then Merlin’s presence has expanded massively – particularly after East Africa’s worst drought in 60 years left millions in need of humanitarian aid. This week, January 20th will mark six months since famine was declared in Somalia.

Health and nutrition programmes were originally co-ordinated by one country director for both countries.

Merlin’s expansion means that the time is now right to have a country director and country health director for each country. Last year alone has seen Merlin’s operations in Kenya grow from 99 to 116 clinics, reaching a total of nearly one million people in Nyanza and Turkana provinces.

In Somalia, 41 clinics and 52 outreach sites reach over 850,000 people – compared to 25 clinics at the beginning of the year. Originally operating only in Puntland, Merlin now provides health services in South Central Somalia and Somaliland.

The change will result in stronger and more dedicated focus for each country, allowing Merlin to continue its expansion geographically and bring health care to more people.

Dr Patrick Mweki, who previously worked for the International Medical Corps, has joined Merlin as new country director for Somalia.

The new country director for Kenya will be Chip Barnett, formerly Merlin’s deputy country director for the joint Kenya and Somalia office. For funding and security reasons the new Somalia office will be based in Nairobi for the time being.

Paula Sansom, Merlin’s Regional Manager for East Africa, said: “It is a huge credit to our staff in Kenya and Somalia that they have increased Merlin’s reach to people in desperate need. We want to carry on responding to the situation and finding ways to provide long-term support.

“The best way to do this is for each country to have its own country director and country health director. This is a very positive statement of our commitment to Kenya and Somalia.”

Drought, insecurity and the absence of a functioning health system have combined to make Somalia’s humanitarian crisis one of the most acute in the world. In areas such as Galgaduud, however, Merlin is the only international health organisation still present.

Six months on from the declaration of famine in Somalia, malnutrition rates have dropped but the crisis is likely to continue until July or August. Through Merlin’s programmes alone, 13,685 children were identified with severe acute malnutrition between January and October 2011.