Zambia: Aid agencies to focus attention on medical care

JOHANNESBURG, 25 February (IRIN) - Aid officials on Wednesday said maternal health and improving rural access to medical care were set to be focus of humanitarian agencies in Zambia in coming months.

"Statistics show that there is a real crisis situation in maternal health. There is a real shortage of medical services available and access to health for women in particular is seriously lacking. In the next six months we will be looking a little more closely at our response in non-food aid sectors such as health care," the UN Office of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), representative Pat Duggan told IRIN.

According to recent reports 2.77 million people across the country face food shortages. Women and children have been most affected by the food insecurity.

In its latest situation report OCHA also said food relief programmes in Zambia would be retargeted so that food aid did not undermine the market during harvest time.

"We are wary of not undermining local farmers during this year's harvest and that is why we are awaiting the result of a recent crop assessment. The results are expected within the next week or two and this will help us identify the pockets of food insecurity around the country. We are mindful of the need to quickly come to grips with the outcome of that assessment and put in place the necessary strategies to address the situation," Duggan said.

Two years of highly erratic rains that reduced crop yield by 40 percent have taken their toll, especially for rural populations in the country's Southern, Western and Lusaka provinces.

Forecasters have predicted that a moderate El Niño event in Southern Africa could again significantly affect rainfall patterns, particularly in southern Zambia.

"The main areas of concern are in Southern Province, which was hit hard by the drought in the past two years, and for which rains have been well down this year. It's important to remember that these communities could be facing a third year of a significantly reduced crop outcome," Duggan noted.

While the cereal pipeline was healthy there was also the long-term effects of HIV/AIDS on agricultural production to consider, Duggan said.

"There is some interesting work being done to better understand the interrelationship between HIV/AIDS and food security especially at a household level. It is imperative that these studies yield results which will help us devise new strategies to better intervene in the homes most affected by the crisis," she noted.

A Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET) released earlier this month revealed that 25 percent of rural households with chronically ill members did not harvest cereals during 2001 to 2002. The presence of a chronically ill family member could result in a 58 percent reduction in income from cash crop sales - most households' primary source of income.


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