By Joyce Ojanji

The number of reported disease outbreaks and climate-related health emergencies in the greater Horn of Africa has reached their highest level this century, deepening a health crisis in a region where 47 million people are already facing acute hunger, especially due to drought.

This is according to a new analysis by the World Health Organization (WHO) which finds that 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 1 January and 30 October 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 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.

“In the past four years, the number of people facing acute hunger in the greater Horn of Africa has more than doubled. We must put a stop to this exponential rise in misery. Between malnutrition and death, there is often disease. The dire conditions in the greater Horn of Africa are a perfect storm for outbreaks, which unless we act quickly will flare up with increasing intensity,” said Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa.

“To mount an effective emergency response to the crisis on our doorstep, we need US$124 million, but have only received 34% of our request up to now.”

Dr. Moeti noted that climate change is having an impact here and now on the health of Africans in the greater Horn of Africa, and called for African leaders to reach an agreement on stemming the rise in temperatures at the 27th United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP27) which is taking place in Africa.

Moreover,  Dr. Egmond Evers, acting Incident Manager, WHO greater Horn of Africa response, noted that WHO urgently needs partners to come together to support the food insecurity response in the region.

“We must ensure a strong health response to prevent disease and death from health risks related to food insecurity. We need more essential medical equipment and supplies, vaccines, medicines, and kits to support essential health services. We must step up critical actions like vaccinations and improve surveillance to prevent outbreaks from getting out of hand. We cannot delay any longer. We must act now.”