Mali instability increasing health risks for children and mothers, warns UNICEF

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Bamako, Mali: UNICEF officials are warning that the crisis in the North of Mali has dramatically increased the risks from diseases such as cholera, measles and polio and could increase maternal and infant deaths.

UNICEF Bamako Health Manager George Fom Ameh says the risks of the spread of vaccine-preventable diseases such as polio and measles have increased.

A scheduled polio campaign failed to take place last week in the North, and with people moving across borders, the disease risks being imported from neighbouring countries where there are cases.

More than half of all health facilities have been vandalised and the number of health professionals is down to an estimated 18-27 per cent of previous levels. There is also concern about a lack of skilled care for women during pregnancy and childbirth, increasing the risk of maternal and new-born deaths.

Nicolas Osbert, manager for Water, Health, Sanitation and Hygiene in UNICEF Bamako says a rise in cases of cholera is also likely.

In 2011, 55 people died from more than 1,300 cases in five regions: Gao and Timbuktu in the North; Segou and Mopti in the centre; and Kayes in the West. By far the largest numbers – 1,000 cases – were in the North. Cholera is endemic in the country and with municipal water supplies in the North hit by a scarcity of fuel, UNICEF is preparing for a rise in the numbers of cases.

In 2011 West and Central Africa suffered from one of the largest cholera epidemics in recent years with 105,248 cases in 17 countries and 2,898 deaths.

Cholera prevention measures will be needed for some 500,000 people in Mali in areas at risk. These include increasing the chlorine level in water networks, educating communities, and delivering Water, Health, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) packages.

UNICEF has already distributed supplies of WASH kits – which include soap and household water treatment supplies – for 10,000 people in the regions of Gao, Timbuktu, Segou and Mopti and will preposition additional supplies before the rainy season starts in July. UNICEF is also planning a public education campaign on cholera and will ask for additional resources to deal with this critical issue.

In the South of the country, home to 87 per cent of the children at risk for Severe Acute Malnutrition, UNICEF is delivering ready-to-use therapeutic food. UNICEF continues to support the Ministry of Health in providing medicines and health care for the populations in the South.

UNICEF has appealed for US$33 million for its emergency response in Mali for the next six months, and so far has received just over half of that amount. An additional US$4 million is needed to tackle cholera.
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