Millions at risk of cholera in Ethiopia, says WHO


GENEVA – Five million people are at risk of cholera in drought-hit Ethiopia, where acute watery diarrhoea has broken out in crowded, unsanitary conditions, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said yesterday.

Cholera, an acute intestinal infection, causes watery diarrhoea that can quickly lead to severe dehydration and death if treatment is not promptly given, according to the United Nations agency.

Overall, 8.8 million people are at risk of malaria and five million of cholera ,” WHO spokesman Tarik Jasarevic said.

Ethiopian health officials have confirmed cases of acute watery diarrhoea in the Somali, Afar and Oromiya regions of Ethiopia, he told Reuters. “It is not confined to the refugees.”

The organisation is delivering emergency health kits to Ethiopia and helping train health workers in treating malnutrition and in detecting disease outbreaks, he said.

Drought across the Horn of Africa, now affecting more than 11 million people in Ethiopia, Djibouti, Kenya and Somalia, has increased the risk of the spread of infectious diseases, especially polio, cholera and measles, the organisation says.

“So far, WHO has not received any report of polio cases. It really is important to help countries to keep their polio-free status,” Mr Jasarevic said.

Somalis fleeing severe drought and intensified fighting have been arriving at the rate of more than 1,700 a day in Ethiopia, where 4.5 million people now need assistance, nearly a 50 per cent rise since April, he said.

Two million children in Ethiopia are at risk of catching measles, a disease that can be deadly in children, he said.

Ethiopian officials reported 17,584 measles cases and 114 deaths during the first half of the year, Unicef spokeswoman Marixie Mercado said. The majority of cases were in children.

Measles has also broken out in the sprawling Kenyan Dadaab camps, with 462 cases confirmed including 11 deaths, Mr Jasarevic said. Dadaab, an overcrowded complex of three camps, now holds some 380,000 refugees.

The UN Refugee Agency plans to begin a massive airlift this weekend to bring tents and other aid supplies to the remote border region, spokesman Adrian Edwards said.

A Boeing 747 flight carrying 100 tonnes of tents is expected to land in Nairobi on Sunday, he said. Six further flights were planned over the next two weeks.

UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres welcomed an announcement by Prime Minister Raila Odinga on Thursday that Kenya is to open an extension to the camps to ease congestion

The UN carried out its first airlift of emergency supplies in two years to southern Somalia – an area controlled by al-Shabaab rebels – on Wednesday, Unicef said.

“Ten health kits, each sufficient to treat 10,000 people over three months are also en route via road,” Ms Mercado said.

Ireland yesterday pledged an additional €1 million in funding for emergency food relief and assistance for refugees in the Horn of Africa. The Government has given some €5.6 million to assist in the region’s humanitarian crisis since the beginning of the year.

Minister of State for Development Jan O’Sullivan called for “stronger international co-operation” to tackle the emergency at a meeting of EU development ministers in Poland yesterday.

“We must act urgently to prevent greater loss of life,” Ms O’Sullivan said.

The increase in aid was welcomed as an “important decision” by the Fianna Fáil foreign affairs spokesman Seán Ó Fearghaíl.

“While I know and appreciate that Ireland is in a very difficult place economically, we must recognise that there are a great many people in a severe situation,” he said. – (Reuters)