NAIROBI, 13 March (IRIN) - Emergencies
caused by wars, civil strife and natural disasters constitute some of the
most serious threats to health in Africa, according to World Health Organisation
(WHO) Regional Director for Africa Dr Ebrahim Samba, speaking in the Republic
of Congo capital, Brazzaville.
"They [emergency situations] result in several hundreds of thousands of deaths, 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 non-communicable diseases, including mental illnesses," he told WHO officials and country representatives in Africa meeting in Brazzaville on Wednesday for the 30th session of their Regional Programme Meeting.
Other consequences of disasters, he said, included destruction of health structures, limited access to health minimum basic care, food shortages (as are currently facing southern Africa and the Horn of Africa), poor access to drinking water, and increasing chronic poverty.
Samba added that 23 of the 46 countries in the WHO African Region were experiencing some kind of emergency, which had now created at least nine million refugees and over 35 million internally displaced persons across the continent.
"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," he said.
Emergencies were now "endemic" in the region, he said, and all the countries were potentially vulnerable. He said a sustainable solution would be for countries to build elements of emergency and humanitarian action into their health priorities and health development programmes.
WHO-Africa had taken several measures to respond to various emergencies facing countries in the region in recent times, the agency said. These included technical support for assessment and response in affected countries; reinforcement 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 the 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, WHO said, had included support for 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 emergency situations currently facing various countries in African include armed conflicts, outbreaks of haemorrhagic fevers and other epidemics, drought and famine, volcano eruption, hurricanes, windstorms and wildfires.
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