Category Archives: Health

Liberia – deadly disease outbreak in Sinoe County with over a dozen dead

From Umaru Fofana

There’s a deadly outbreak in Sinoe County, southeastern #Liberia which started at the weekend and escalated on Monday & Tuesday. Sources at the F.J Grante Hospital in Greenville speak of over a dozen deaths – with health officials donning PPEs similar to those worn during Ebola. One expressed total bewilderment to me. Unclear what the outbreak is but blood samples have been taken to Buchanan in Grand Bassa county. Some of the victims are said to be literally dropping dead. The Liberian National Police are using megaphones to warn residents to report all sick cases to the hospital and not to churches/shrines.

 

BBC

Liberia tests mystery disease swabs

Liberia’s health ministry says it is testing the blood samples taken from eight people who have died from an unidentified disease in Sinoe county, 350km (217 miles) south-east of the capital, Monrovia.

Health ministry spokesperson Sorbor George said that efforts to resuscitate those who died unfortunately failed, the BBC’s Jonathan Paye-Layleh reports.

Mr George added that five others, showing similar symptoms of adbominal or stomach pains, have been admitted to hospital for treatment.

State radio has described the illness the victims died of as a “strange disease”.

Nearly 5,000 people died in Liberia from the 2015 Ebola outbreak when the authorities were criticised for not acting fast enough in the face of the deadly virus.

But there is no suggestion that the victims have died of Ebola and reports from the area of what happened prior to their deaths indicate that they did not experience Ebola-like symptoms.

Researcher with a vial of blood

AFP

 

 

Somaliland drought a nightmare and security threat

Star (Kenya)

Mar. 22, 2017, 6:00 pm
An internally displaced Somali man rests as he flees from drought stricken regions in Lower Shabelle region before entering makeshift camps in Somalia’s capital Mogadishu, March 17, 2017. /REUTERS

Prolonged drought in Somaliland has killed between 65 and 80 per cent of the semi-autonomous region’s livestock, creating conditions that are “the worst time in our lives” and could threaten regional security, says the region’s environment minister.

With 70 per cent of Somaliland’s economy built around livestock, “you can imagine the desperation of the people, the desperation of the government,” said Shukri Ismail Bandare, the minister of rural development and environment.

“Pastoralists say this is the worst we have seen, a kind of nightmare,” she said. “They have 400 or 500 goats and then just 20 left. They have lost practically everything. I don’t know how they are still sane.”

Previous droughts have hit one area of Somaliland, but “now it’s five regions of the country. We’ve never seen it before”, she said in a telephone interview from Hargeisa, the capital, with the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Across the Horn of Africa, millions have been hit by severe El Nino-related drought. In Somalia, 5.5 million people need assistance to survive over the next six months, UN Secretary General António Guterres said earlier this month.

Somaliland, a northern region of Somalia that operates autonomously after declaring independence, says it faces a particularly difficult time as its political status – it is not recognised as an independent nation – makes accessing aid more difficult.

“We are not getting bilateral or multilateral funds because we are not recognised,” Bandare said. “We are just working with the resources we have. It’s a drop in the ocean.”

Some “low” levels of international assistance are arriving, she said, but worsening drought has led to widespread migration in Somaliland, with herders flocking to the few remaining places with water.

Those villages and cities in turn are now overwhelmed by “thousands and thousands” of migrants, the minister said. “What they have is practically exhausted because of the pressure,” she said.

Read: World has months to stop starvation in Yemen, Somalia – Red Cross

Security risks

Experts fear growing migration and other social and financial stresses in Somaliland could undermine its role in preventing the spread of Islamic militant groups in the Horn of Africa.

“The displacement and dislocation due to the drought is not only a humanitarian disaster but threatens the social fabric of society,” said Michael Higgins of Independent Diplomat, a non-profit advisory group that works with Somaliland’s government to improve its diplomatic efforts.

That “could in turn disrupt security in the entire Horn of Africa region where Somaliland is acting as a buffer and bulwark against Islamic militants such as al Shabaab,” Higgins said.

Bandare said her government had little money to spend on emergency aid.

“Our resources are limited,” the minister said. “We spend a lot of money on peace and security because there are so many dynamics surrounding this country.”

Fortunately, “a lot of people understand the situation we are in, so we are optimistic” about receiving help, she said.

The drought already has forced Somaliland’s government to use money it had allocated for infrastructure and development spend on relief food and water, Bandare said.

“We were in a development stage, doing all kinds of infrastructure and really taking the country forward,” she said. “But now we are in an emergency.”

No water, no grazing

Poor rains since last year have left much of the semi-arid region’s grazing land barren. The country has virtually no irrigation, and no rivers or streams, Bandare said.

“The situation is getting worse by the day. It’s affected thousands and thousands of people,” she said. “And it affects our economy as a nation. The backbone of our economy was livestock.”

She said that climate change means that “drought is now coming every other year or every three years” in the region. “You can imagine the weight it has on our economy,” she said. “There’s no time to recover.”

Deforestation and widespread soil erosion have also contributed to the country’s rainfall problems, she said, noting that rain often now comes either all at once – producing floods – or not at all.

Efforts to harvest and store rainwater in Somaliland, including through a new African Water Facility project, are still in early stages, Bandare said.

Traditionally, spring rains have arrived the last week of March, but in many recent years they have come in late April. With a growing number of families now without access to water or food, delayed rains could mean a surge in loss of life, she said.

“If it doesn’t rain then we are in big, big trouble. Almost two million people are suffering now. Can you imagine if it affects the whole country” of 4.5 million, she asked.

UN warns that South Sudan is fastest growing refugee crisis

UN News Service

Refugees from South Sudan arrive in Elegu, northern Uganda Photo: UNHCR/Will Swanson

The number of South Sudanese fleeing their homes is “alarming,” the United Nations refugee agency today said, announcing that 1.6 million people have either been displaced or fled to neighbouring countries in the past eight months ago.

“A famine produced by the vicious combination of fighting and drought is now driving the world’s fastest growing refugee crisis,” the spokesperson for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Babar Baloch, told journalists at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

He added that “the rate of new displacement is alarming, representing an impossible burden on a region that is significantly poorer and which is fast running short of resources to cope.”

Refugees from South Sudan are crossing the borders to the neighbouring countries. The majority of them go to Uganda where new arrivals spiked from 2,000 per day to 6,000 per day in February, and currently average more than 2,800 people per day.

“The situation is now critical,” said Mr. Baloch, warning that recent rains are making the humanitarian situation more difficult.

VIDEO: UNHCR spokesperson Babar Baloch warns that South Sudan is facing world’s fastest growing refugee crisis.

The UN agency is reiterating its calls for financial support. Aid for South Sudanese refugees is only eight per cent funded at $781.8 million, and UNHCR’s funding appeal for Uganda urgently needs $267 million.

The situation in Uganda is a “first and major test” of the commitments made at the Summit for Refugees and Migrants last September, the spokesperson said.

One of the main achievements of the Summit was to create a refugee response framework that integrates humanitarian and development efforts. This translates into giving refugees land and allowing them to access job markets, for example.

The situation of refugees in Uganda could impact how the UN and humanitarian partners are working to support national authorities in the other neighbouring countries – the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Kenya and Sudan.

“No neighbouring country is immune,” said Mr. Baloch.

‘Security situation continues to deteriorate’

Also today, the head of the UN peacekeeping mission in the country (UNMISS), David Shearer, warned that the security situation in the country is worsening, and national authorities are not taking action.

“The situation in South Sudan continues to deteriorate and generate profound human suffering for the population of that country – suffering in which local and ethnic divisions have been exploited for political ends,” David Shearer told a meeting of the African Union Peace and Security Council on South Sudan.

He added that the recent escalation of fighting in Equatoria– considered the food basket of South Sudan – has led to a significant displacement of civilians and disrupted food production for the country.

Intense fighting is also reported in the Upper Nile. Satellite imagery shows much of one town, Wau Shilluk, destroyed and deserted.

The senior UN official reiterated concerns about the humanitarian situation in the country, calling the ongoing crisis “entirely man-made.” An estimated 100,000 people are facing starvation and an additional one million are classified as being on the brink of famine.

Mr. Shearer, who is also the Special Representative of the Secretary-General in the country, urged access for humanitarian organisations and the UN mission.


News Tracker: past stories on this issue

UN aid chief urges global action as starvation, famine loom for 20 million across four countries

South Sudan – UN reports slams arms purchases during famine

allAfrica/DW

A proposal for an arms embargo was supported by the United States in December, but the plan was rejected by the UN Security Council. Could the international body be ready to change it position as suffering continues?

A confidential UN report slams the government of South Sudan for spending more than half its budget on weapons and security as 100,000 people are dying of starvation

The human misery is the result of famine caused primarily by ever-increasing government attacks in the area.

Experts say another 1.1 million are near starvation. In addition, the number of people desperately needing food is expected to hit 5.5 million in the “lean season in July … if nothing is done to curb the severity and breadth of the food crisis.”

The report also calls for an arms embargo on South Sudan – a measure supported by the United States but rejected by the UN Security Council during a vote in December.

“Weapons continue to flow into South Sudan from diverse sources, often with the coordination of neighboring countries,” said the report by a panel of experts.

The experts found a “preponderance of evidence (that) shows continued procurement of weapons by the leadership in Juba” for the army, the security services, militias and other “associated forces.”

A petrostate

Rich in oil, South Sudan generates 97 percent of its budget revenue from petroleum sales. From late March to late October 2016, oil revenues totaled about $243 million, according to calculations from the panel.

At least half – “and likely substantially more” – of its budget expenditures are devoted to security issues including arms purchases, the 48-page report said.

President Salva Kiir’s government has continued to make arms deals even as a famine was declared in parts of Unity state, where the famine is most acute.

 South Sudan arms purchases

“The bulk of evidence suggests that the famine in Unity state has resulted from protracted conflict and, in particular, the cumulative toll of repeated military operations undertaken by the government in southern Unity beginning in 2014,” according to the report.

The government is compounding the food crisis by blocking access for humanitarian aid workers. Significant population displacement has helped exacerbate the famine.

Fighting began intensifying last July, devastating food production in areas that have traditionally been stable for farmers, including the Equatorial region, which is considered the country’s breadbasket.

After gaining independence from Sudan in 2011, South Sudan descended into war in December 2013, leaving tens of thousands dead and some 3.5 million people displaced.

bik/sms (AP, AFP)

UN says Africa facing worst humanitarian crisis since 1945

BBC

The world is facing its largest humanitarian crisis since 1945, the United Nations says, issuing a plea for help to avoid “a catastrophe”.

UN humanitarian chief Stephen O’Brien said that more than 20 million people faced the threat of starvation and famine in Yemen, Somalia, South Sudan and Nigeria.

Unicef has already warned 1.4m children could starve to death this year.

Mr O’Brien said $4.4bn (£3.6bn) was needed by July to avert disaster.

“We stand at a critical point in history,” Mr O’Brien told the Security Council on Friday. “Already at the beginning of the year we are facing the largest humanitarian crisis since the creation of the United Nations.”

“Now, more than 20 million people across four countries face starvation and famine. Without collective and coordinated global efforts, people will simply starve to death. Many more will suffer and die from disease.


Map showing scale of malnutrition

“Children stunted and out of school. Livelihoods, futures and hope will be lost. Communities’ resilience rapidly wilting away. Development gains reversed. Many will be displaced and will continue to move in search for survival, creating ever more instability across entire regions.”

Mr O’Brien’s comments follow on from a similar appeal made by UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres last month.

At that time, he revealed the UN had only received $90m (£74m) so far in 2017, despite generous pledges.

Like Mr O’Brien, he urged more financial support for the four countries. But why are they in such dire need?


Yemen

five-year-old Mohannad Ali lies on a hospital bed in Abs, YemenUnicef   Five-year-old Mohannad Ali sits in hospital in Yemen in December. His younger cousin – aged just two – died of hunger

The pictures were among the most shocking of last year: emaciated children, clinging on to life with what little strength they had left. Four-year-olds not bigger than infants. And mothers unable to do anything to stop their children dying.

It is thought a child dies every 10 minutes in Yemen from a preventable disease, while half-a-million children under five are suffering from severe acute malnutrition.

The UN estimates some 19 million people – or two thirds of Yemen’s population – is in need of some sort of humanitarian help following two years of war between Houthi insurgents and the government, which is backed by a Saudi-led coalition.

What’s hampering aid?

Continuing fighting, lack of rule of law, poor governance, under-development.

A naval embargo imposed by the Saudi-led coalition, fighting around the government-controlled port of Aden and air strikes on the rebel-held port of Hudaydah, have severely reduced imports since 2015.

A lack of fuel, coupled with insecurity and damage to markets and roads, have also prevented supplies from being distributed.

Read more: How bad is Yemen’s humanitarian crisis?


South Sudan

UN agencies say 100,000 people are facing starvation in South Sudan, while a further million are classified as being on the brink of famine.

It is the most acute of the present food emergencies, and the most widespread nationally.

Overall, says the UN, 4.9 million people – or 40% of South Sudan’s population – are “in need of urgent food, agriculture and nutrition assistance”.

What’s hampering aid?

Continuing fighting in the country that now has been at war since 2013, lack of rule of law, under-development.

Some UN officials have suggested President Salva Kiir’s government has been blocking food aid to certain areas – a claim denied by the authorities.

There have also been reports of humanitarian convoys and warehouses coming under attack or being looted, either by government or rebel forces.

Read more: Why are there still famines?


Nigeria

The UN has described the unfolding disaster in north-eastern Nigeria as the “greatest crisis on the continent” – the full extent of which has only been revealed as extremist militant group Boko Haram is pushed back.

It was already known the Islamist group had killed 15,000 and pushed more than two million from their homes. But as they retreated, it became clear there were thousands more people living in famine-like conditions in urgent need of help.

The UN estimated in December there were 75,000 children at risk of starving to death. Another 7.1 million people in Nigeria and the neighbouring Lake Chad area are considered “severely food insecure”.

What’s hampering aid?

Boko Haram attacks, lack of rule of law, under-development.

There are still areas under the control of Boko Haram, which aid agencies cannot reach.

Thee have also been allegations of widespread aid theft, which are being investigated by Nigeria’s senate.

Read more:We survived militants but face starvation’


Somalia

Hospitals are seeing children with severe dehydration

Media captionHospitals are seeing children with severe dehydration

The last time a famine was declared in Somalia – just six years ago – nearly 260,000 people died.

At the beginning of March, there were reports of 110 people dying in just one region in a 48-hour period.

Humanitarian groups fear this could be just the beginning: a lack of water – blamed partially on the El Nino weather phenomenon – has killed off livestock and crops, leaving 6.2 million people in urgent need of help.

What’s hampering aid?

Continuing attacks by Islamist militant group al-Shabab, lack of rule of law, under-development.

Piracy off Somalia’s coast impeded shipments in the past – however attacks have reduced significantly in recent years.

Read more: More than 100 die from hunger in one region

Madagascar – cyclone death toll reaches 38

Reuters

At least 38 people have been killed by Cyclone Enawo that struck Madagascar this week, according to an official of the country’s disaster management department.

“The damage is enormous wherever the cyclone has gone,” Thierry Venty, executive secretary of the National Bureau of Risk and Disaster Management, said late on Friday on national television.

He said 38 people had been killed countrywide by the cyclone, including a family who died in a landslide, while an estimated 153,000 people have been displaced by storm waters.

Enawo hit Madagascar’s vanilla-producing northeastern coast on Tuesday morning, destroying roads and cutting off communications with Antalaha district, which has a population of 230,000 people.

More than 116,000 people have been directly affected by the cyclone, but Venty did not say how many of those were displaced or had their property damaged.

Late on Thursday, the meteorological office said the cyclone’s power had “significantly weakened” according to a bulletin from the country’s meteorological office, with the storm moving at speeds of 45-50 kph (28-31 miles per hour).

(Reporting by Lovasoa Rabary; Writing by Elias Biryabarema; Editing by Sandra Maler)

Somalia – Puntland teetering on the edge of famine

Al Jazeera

Ahmed Osman and his son Mohamed, seek medical care for Mohamed in Duho, where a small clinic is serving pastoralist families affected by malnutrition [Ashley Hamer/Al Jazeera]

Puntland, Somalia – Ahmed Osman, 34, gathered his tiny son into his arms and walked for three hours to reach the nearest medical centre in Dhudo village in Puntland, a semi-autonomous region of Somalia.

His three-year-old son, Mohamed, was desperately frail. He had been suffering from fever, vomiting and acute diarrhoea for eight days.

“My wife and three other children are behind in our camp with the surviving goats. I am the only one who could carry the baby all this way,” he told Al Jazeera.

The clinic in Dhudo is a small local government facility supported by aid group Save the Children. Nurse Bahija Abdullahi says she has been receiving two to three children a day since January. They are coming from makeshift pastoralist settlements scattered across the area, she explains.

The diarrhoea and fever has taken a toll on Mohamed’s health. Abdullahi can offer him oral rehydration salts and sachets of high-calorie peanut paste, but she doesn’t have the resources to treat cases of critical malnutrition like his.

Such children can be referred only to three hospitals in all of Puntland – Garowe, Bosaso and Galkayo – each hundreds of kilometres apart.

Osman is a nomadic pastoralist whose family has raised sheep, goats and camel in the arid Nugaal district in southern Puntland for generations.

Erratic rainfall

However, more than two years of protracted drought and erratic rainfall have killed off most of his animals, separated his family and driven him further from his native place than he has ever needed to travel.

Swaths of Somalia are once again on the edge of famine. On Sunday, Prime Minister Hassan Ali Khaire announced the deaths from starvation of 110 people in 48 hours in the country’s south-west.

It is six years since Somalia’s last famine killed some 260,000 people.

Now, nearly 6.2 million people – more than half the population – face acute food and water shortages and almost three million are going hungry.

“In my whole life in Somalia I have never seen so many dead livestock,” says Mowlid Mudan, communications officer for Save the Children, one of the few organisations working in Puntland.

READ MORE: Antonio Guterres raises alarm as hunger crisis worsens

“Sixty percent of our population relies on livestock to live and the rest are somehow connected. These families have lost every single animal. Even their camels. When the camels start to die you know that people will be next.”

Osman is not the only one who has headed for Dhudo. The village is built around the only substantial water source within a 75km radius: currently a diminishing green rivulet which pools in a rocky gully.

Bandar Bayla, the eastern district alongside the Indian Ocean where Dhudo lies, saw fleeting showers in late 2016.

Word spread and pastoralists travelled from as far as neighbouring Ethiopia in search of pasture for their herds.

But there has been no more rain.

Somalia is only fed by two perennial rivers – the Juba and the Shabelle – neither of which enter Puntland.

Carcasses litter the landscape; small heaps of bones, shrivelled skin and fur. Countless sheep and goats huddle together in the sand and die where they lay.

Abdirisak Farah, 40, brought his herd 200km from Nugaal to Bandar Bayla. Of his 500 animals, fewer than 100 survive.

“We had to leave our wives and children behind in villages because they are not strong enough to make this journey on foot,” says Farah.

“I have never had to move so far to find pasture.”

State of disaster

Some 250km further inland, ragged displacement camps are expanding on the fringes of towns as destitute nomads are forced out of the wilderness to seek assistance.

Shaxade, off the main road between the hubs of Garowe and Qardho, is currently home to dozens of women and children whose adult male relatives left for the coast with their herds two months ago.

“We are here because we have lost almost everything. We were feeding cardboard and water to our animals,” says Star Abdullahi, a mother of six.

“We are depending on the host community for food and the clinic nearby for the weakest ones. Our situation is bad but at least we are a group of women protecting each other. In the bush we were scattered and alone. This is safer for us.”

READ MORE: Famine stalks Somalia again

Somalia elected a new president in February following a drawn-out political process.

Ten days into his term, President Abdullahi Mohamed Farmajo declared a drought-induced state of disaster across the country, and a national drought response team was established.

Puntland is a territory that identifies as semi-autonomous – unlike breakaway Somaliland in the far north – and wishes to remain part of a federal Somalia.

Access for humanitarian aid across much of South Central Somalia remains impossible because the country is still fighting the armed group al-Shabab.

Puntland, where drought has also ravaged the countryside, however, considers itself more stable. Local leaders say they have been sounding the alarm for more than a year to little effect.

“We are in a pre-famine situation and the time to act is now,” says regional Environment Minister Ali Abdullahi Warsame at his office in Garowe.

“We are already reporting deaths by hunger and because people are drinking contaminated water … The entire economy is collapsing … But 95 percent of Puntland is accessible, unlike the south. Our government has meagre resources but is ready to assist the NGOs, but all eyes are on Mogadishu [Somalia’s capital] and the political transition.”

International support

According to Warsame, Puntland’s government raised more than $1m for drought relief in November, with large contributions from the diaspora and local door-to-door collections.

“We only need very basic food, sanitation and shelter items but we need them urgently in the next three weeks … The bulk of our response has been community-led. The international support is a drop in the ocean. It never comes at the right time,” he said.

At of the start of the year, international NGOs and the UN requested some $825m from donors during the first half of 2017 to prevent famine in Somalia.

IN PICTURES: Drought in Somalia – Time is Running Out

Funds are coming in at a faster rate than in 2011 and humanitarian agencies now have a stronger presence on the ground, according to Julien Navier, spokesperson for the UN’s refugee agency.

Nevertheless, competing catastrophes in South Sudan, Yemen and the Lake Chad basin mean that what is desperately needed to halt an avoidable tragedy may not materialise in time.

Sahara Mohamed has brought her three children to a small clinic in Yaka village, close to the Shaxade displacement site. Her husband took their surviving goats to the coast two months ago.

She cradles her two-year-old, who is barely conscious, while her three-year-old lies limp on the cot beside her. Her oldest son sits shivering on the edge of the cot, an intravenous (IV) tube inserted under the skin of his small hand. Nurses believe he is suffering from pneumonia.

“Children are getting sick because they are weak but they don’t have to be,” says Mudan. “You can see this is preventable if we move fast.”

Source: Al Jazeera News