The greater Horn of Africa’s climate-related health crisis worsens as disease outbreaks surge

Nov. 4, 2022
New analysis by WHO.

New analysis by World Health Organization (WHO) has found that the number of reported disease outbreaks and climate-related health emergencies in the greater Horn Africa have reached their highest-ever level this century, deepening a health crisis in a region where 47 million people are already facing acute hunger. Most parts of the region are battling the worst drought in at least 40 years, with an unprecedented fifth rainy season failure now anticipated, while other parts face flooding and conflict. 

Analysis of the seven countries in the greater Horn of Africa - Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan and Uganda – recorded 39 reported outbreaks, flooding and other acute public health events between January 1 and October 30 2022. This is already the highest annual reported number since 2000, with two months left in the year. Outbreaks of anthrax, measles, cholera, yellow fever, chikungunya, meningitis, and other infectious diseases account for more than 80% of the acute public health events reported, with drought, flooding and other disasters accounting for 18%. 

Millions of children under the age of five years are estimated to be facing acute malnutrition, increasing their risk of not only starvation, but also of severe outcomes during a disease outbreak due to weakened immunity. Malnourished children are more susceptible to common childhood diseases. Globally, 45% of under-5 deaths are associated with malnutrition. 

Vaccination coverage in the region of life-saving childhood vaccines is well below the necessary threshold to prevent disease outbreaks. In most countries of the region, measles vaccination coverage is too low to prevent cases and all greater Horn of Africa countries have had to deal with measles outbreaks in 2022.  

Drought is not the only extreme weather event the region is fighting. South Sudan is experiencing its fourth consecutive year of flooding with 40% of the country under water. Heavy rains and flash floods continue to affect tens of thousands of people across neighboring Sudan. The floods have destroyed or damaged thousands of houses and tens of health facilities, water sources, and latrines in 15 states. Additionally, livestock and a wide area of agricultural land have been affected by floods, which contribute to food insecurity. 

Food insecurity, resulting from flooding and drought, along with conflict, the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic, and high food and fuel prices, has forced people to flee their homes and the region now has 4.5 million refugees and asylum seekers as well as 12.7 million internally displaced people. The displacement of people often means they will miss out on the healthcare they need, including preventive care. Crowded temporary shelters with poor water and sanitation conditions can contribute to an increased risk of outbreaks. 

WHO has mobilized over US$7 million in supplies and equipment for the greater Horn of Africa including US$3 million in kits to severe malnutrition, or diseases such as cholera and measles. The Organization has also trained thousands of health workers across the region on the management of acute malnutrition. 

WHO release 

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