WHO seeks more than $8m to respond to the health effects of El Niño in Ethiopia

Ethiopia is grappling with its worst drought in 30 years due to El Niño. The country has already experienced two poor growing seasons in 2015, and due to delayed rains attributed to the extreme weather phenomenon, Ethiopia’s main annual harvest saw a severe reduction in output, leaving some 8.2 million people in urgent need of food assistance. This condition has led to the outbreak of many diseases, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has noted.

In response to a recent measles outbreak, the Ethiopian Ministry of Health and partners started vaccinating 5.3 million children under five in hotspot districts in October. However, a significant funding gap remains for the vaccination of children between 5 and 14 years of age, WHO disclosed in a statement.

“This is just the beginning of what the health sector is going to need in the coming months to address the health consequences of El Niño in Ethiopia, across the Horn of Africa, southern Africa and in many other parts of the world,” said Dr Michelle Gayer, Director a.i. of WHO’s Emergency Risk Management & Humanitarian Response Department.

Although response plans are yet to be finalized, WHO estimates its initial funding request will require more than $8 million. The global health body is working closely with Ethiopia’s Ministry of Health and development partners to identify resource needs and ensure life-saving and routine care, while scaling the humanitarian health response.

Ongoing epidemics in Ethiopia is aggravated by malnutrition in the country with every month since January seeing increase in the number of malnourished children. It is estimated that 400,000 children will face severe malnutrition in 2016. In addition, some 700,000 expecting and recent mothers are at risk for severe malnutrition.

“The food security emergency is coming against a background of multiple ongoing epidemics in the country. This creates an additional burden for people’s health as well as the health system as malnutrition, especially in children, predisposes them to more severe infectious disease, which can kill quickly,” Dr Gayer said.

Having anticipated a major increase in health risks, WHO has strengthened its response by mobilizing drugs, equipment and human resources. However, the situation is expected to worsen over the next eight months and take more than one year for Ethiopia to recover.

El Niño affects rainfall patterns and temperatures in many parts of the world but most intensely in the tropical regions of Africa, Asia-Pacific, and Latin America which are particularly vulnerable to natural hazards. Typically, some places receive more rain while others receive none, causing flooding and droughts leading to a variety of public health concerns. The world food crisis of 1982-84, the most severe recorded, has been linked to El Niño, including famines that struck populations in Ethiopia.