UNICEF mounts urgent response to contain the spread of cholera in Somalia 

UNICEF mounts urgent response to contain the spread of cholera in Somalia

Foday Ali’s five-month-old baby is looking around, showing signs of life for the first time in four days since she was admitted to the Banadir Paediatric Unit in Mogadishu for severe malnutrition. She was born in an Internally Displaced Person (IDP) camp in Mogadishu just days after her mother completed the 25 kilometre walk from her home just north of El Ma’an. Report by Eva Gilliam NAIROBI, Kenya, 18 August 2011

VIDEO: 15 August 2011 – UNICEF’s Eva Gilliam reports on efforts to contain the spread of cholera and other water-bourne diseases as hundreds of families flee the famine in Somalia.
“I sent my other six children ahead in a truck, but we walked,” explained Foday.  “We had no choice but to come here. Our last cattle died of starvation, and I didn’t want my children to do the same.” Last week, her new-born began suffering from severe diarrhoea and vomiting, so she brought her to the hospital.

Disease keeps spreading

The paediatric ward of Banadir Hospital in Mogadishu has seen nearly 900 cases of acute watery diarrhoea in July alone – this is up from just over 400 in March. As more and more Somalis leave their homes and come to the capital, these highly contagious diseases are spreading. Some 75 per cent of all cases of highly infectious acute watery diarrhoea are among children under the age of five.

“The children arrive severely dehydrated,” explained Dr. Abdulla Abukar. “First we hydrate intravenously or with oral rehydration salts, then we administer antibiotics and parasitic drugs.”

Banadir Hospital in Mogadishu
Foday Ali, a mother of seven, with one of her two children currently being treated for acute watery diarrhoea in the pediatric ward of Banadir Hospital in Mogadishu, Somalia. UNICEF Image © UNICEF video

Dr. Abukar says that recently he is seeing as many as 50 cases per day.

The famine in the region has forced hundreds of thousands of Somalis to come to Mogadishu and other urban centres seeking food; many arrive in a state of extreme malnutrition. The influx of such high numbers into urban areas and IDP camps, in an endemic cholera area, has had devastating consequences.

“Usually the diarrhoea is caused by very poor sanitation and contaminated water,” said Dr. Osamu Okunii, Chief of Child Survival and Development with UNICEF Somalia. “But also it is facilitated by acute malnutrition and improper infant and young child feeding – if they get water before six months of age, they get diarrhoea very easily.”

Promoting proper hygiene

Health, nutrition and water and sanitation partners are currently working with the local and newly arrived populations to minimize the disease risk and subsequent deaths. The lack of access to safe water has compounded the risk of disease outbreak.

Abdurrahman Ahmed Abdi of the Somali Public Health Professionals Association (SOPHDA) in Mogadishu stressed the importance of teaching people proper sanitation practices, particularly when it comes to protecting the water supply.

“We are teaching people how to chlorinate water, use latrines and clean up the area around their temporary shelters,” said Mr. Abdi. We organise teams of IDPs to help clean up their camp and bury their rubbish. These activities are imperative.”

Severely dehydrated children being treated at the Banadir Hospital
Severely dehydrated children being treated at the Banadir Hospital in Mogadishu, Somalia. UNICEF Image © UNICEF video

UNICEF provides support

Abdurrahman is one of several hygiene promoters going door-to-door with healthy hygiene education as well as rehydration kits to treat new cases urgently. UNICEF is also providing infusions, antibiotics, rehydration salts and zinc at local hospitals.

Household water treatment supplies, latrines and safe water are also being provided by UNICEF and NGO partners to IDP camps, private homes and existing feeding centres for malnourished children.

Many of Ssouthern Somalia’s urban centres rely on shallow wells. If these wells are not protected of treated with chlorine they can become the perfect breeding ground for water borne diseases. Chlorine supplies are being distributed and already 217 water sources and nearly 60 water point outlets have been treated by SOPHDA and other partners, serving almost half a million residents and IDPs in Mogadishu. Hundreds of thousands of others throughout the south of the country are benefiting from water source chlorination activities.

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