GENEVA - The World Health Organization is warning of growing health risks in the Horn of Africa as acute hunger spreads there.
The World Health Organization's incident manager for the Horn of Africa, Sophie Maes, says urgent action is needed to slow the health and hunger crisis that is sickening and killing increasing numbers of people in the region.
WHO has released $16.5 million from its emergency fund for operations there.
"Due to the acute food insecurity, malnutrition rates are getting higher and higher, and especially children and pregnant and lactating women are very, very vulnerable,' said Maes. '... There is this synergy between malnutrition and disease where malnourished children become more easily sick and sick children more easily malnourished."
The World Food Program warns 20 million people are at risk of starvation as drought in the Horn worsens.
Speaking from the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, Maes says the priority is to ensure everyone has access to food. At the same time, she says it is important that' health needs are not neglected.
She warns the risk of disease outbreaks is higher because of a lack of clean water. She says the drought has dried up water sources, forcing people to leave their homes in search of food, water, and pasture for their cattle. Consequently, she says people are more likely to get sick as their living conditions deteriorate.
"And we are seeing a spike in disease outbreaks. We are looking at measles in Djibouti, Ethiopia, South Sudan, Somalia, Sudan,' said Maes. 'Cholera and acute water diarrhea in Kenya, in South Sudan and Somalia. Meningitis, Hepatitis E, to name but a few."
Maes appeals for international support to help WHO provide needed care to severely malnourished children.
She says it is crucial to respond to disease outbreaks quickly, to have sufficient supplies of drugs and equipment available, and to ensure children receive needed vaccines.