The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned against deadly diseases and malnutrition afflicting the African country of Somalia due to drought.
In an exclusive interview with Anadolu Agency (AA), Mamunur Rahman Malik, the WHO representative in Somalia, said some areas in the country are already experiencing a famine-like situation. He urged the government to shift its focus to work on providing life-saving support to the vulnerable population.
"If we can work together in competing for resources, if we do not duplicate our efforts, if the government steers the process and oversees the situation, we can overcome this situation," he said.
The WHO representative said the health consequences of one of the worst droughts were alarming, cautioning that more people may die because of diseases than hunger.
The drought is believed to have hit 50% of the country's population as more than 7 million people need humanitarian assistance. The dry spell has also displaced nearly a million people – the majority of them women and children.
"If we do not prioritize health in terms of expanding access to emergency health care and life-saving support, people will eventually die of diseases,” he said.
The WHO representative said that diseases follow famines and droughts as they accompany malnutrition, which causes more deaths than hunger itself.
"Therefore, we need to protect the health of these vulnerable people to save their lives from largely preventable causes. We are seeing a high number of cholera incidents, acute diarrheal disease, pneumonia and measles cases amongst these vulnerable people impacted by the drought," Malik told AA.
Due to the current drought, the health situation in the Horn of Africa country is deteriorating rapidly. The United Nations and other international humanitarian organizations are trying to help approximately 7.7 million – almost 50% – of the population who have been directly or indirectly affected by the drought.
The WHO representative said they are witnessing a rise in cholera cases. So far, 4,887 suspected cases of cholera with 16 associated deaths have been reported from 21 drought-affected districts.
Of the 4,887 suspected cases of cholera, 62.4% are children below the age of 5.
"The regions reporting most of the cholera cases so far are Banadir with 2,132 cases, Bay with 1,662 cases and Lower Shabelle with 557 cases," Malik said.
Besides cholera, the region has also witnessed a spike in diarrheal diseases. So far since January, a total of 29,273 cases of acute diarrheal disease have been reported in drought-affected districts.
Of these cases, 69% were children younger than 5.
Malik said the suspected cases of measles have also increased in 2022 compared to the previous years.
He said the number of new cases of suspected measles has increased by 15% in the past two weeks.
The regions reporting the most cases include Bay Mudug and Banadir.
On the steps to be taken to avoid famine, he said there was a need to increase and expand access to emergency health services and also ensure that health centers are staffed with appropriate caregivers, and equipped with adequate medicine.
"We must monitor if excess death is happening as this is the most definitive indicator of the looming threat of a famine," he said.
Malik said the WHO has deployed over 2,500 community health workers to support community-based and life-saving health interventions and that the health staff are screening for nutrition, distributing micronutrient supplements and paying home visits to sick children unable to visit health centers.