NEW YORK—UNFPA, the UN Population Fund, is alarmed about the increasing number of cholera cases being reported near Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu. “Pregnant women who suffer from anaemia and malnutrition are especially vulnerable, because of their weakened immune system,” explains Henia Dakkak, Humanitarian Technical Advisor at UNFPA.
Cholera is a water-born diarrheal disease that causes severe dehydration and can kill in hours. However, up to 80 per cent of patients survive if they are treated quickly with oral hydration salts. Living conditions in Somalia, and in refugee camps in the Horn of Africa, are making the local population extremely vulnerable to the disease. Overpopulation, lack of toilets and contaminated drinking water increases the occurrence of cholera. It is often difficult to treat patients because of poor conditions at local health facilities.
Measles is also breaking out at refugee camps in Dollo Ado, Ethiopia and Dadaab, Kenya. Pregnant women who catch it have an increased risk of miscarriage or premature labour.
On World Humanitarian Day, UNFPA calls on the international community to maintain and improve its effort to prevent cholera and measles outbreaks in Somalia, and also in Kenya and Ethiopia where there is a large number of Somali refugees. Prevention and awareness programmes should specifically target women as they are usually the primary caregivers for children. “It is important for mothers to increase breast-feeding during and after an episode of cholera,” suggests Ms. Dakkak. When treating cases of cholera, health care providers should give mothers rehydration salts to use at home.
UNFPA is distributing approximately 200,000 dignity kits throughout the Horn of Africa, which include hygienic items such as soap, washing powder and sanitary items for women. UNFPA is also working with partners in raising awareness about prevention methods throughout the region.
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