Somalia: Drought brings drop in some diseases, increase in others

Publié: 13 juillet 2016 6:59 CET

By Leena Reikko, Finnish Red Cross

Failed rains, coupled with a strong El Niño, have left close to 5 million people in Somalia in need of food support – many of whom are already in the crisis stage. But the effects of the drought are not just limited to hunger in both humans and livestock. It is also causing an increase in some diseases such as eye infections and the risk of epidemics.

On a specific day every month, the cross-country car of the Somali Red Crescent Society mobile clinic arrives at the village of Khalif, in western Somaliland.

Three nurses assemble their respective healthcare stations under the trees. Above all, the mobile clinic is a maternity and child health clinic, but it assists everyone, men included.

Five-month-old Mouhammed Abdullahi has just been measured, weighed in the hanging scales, and vaccinated against pneumonia, tuberculosis, jaundice and polio – and now he is bawling.

“This child is fine,” says nurse Zamzam Gedi happily, as she writes down the measurements of the baby boy: 50 centimetres and six kilograms.

Malnutrition weakens the immune system

The village of Khalif is situated in the dry area of Somaliland, and some children are malnourished, though not yet to a troubling extent. It is quite different from other parts of the country where more than 300,000 children under the age of five are reported to be acutely malnourished. Health issues abound.

“Pneumonia and diarrhoea, in particular, are common,” says Zamzam.

“The drought reduces some illnesses, but increases others. For example, the number of malaria infections is decreasing here since even the mosquitoes hate the dry weather,” says Terhi Heinäsmäki, the Finnish Red Cross representative for eastern Africa.

However, illnesses caused by lack of water, such as eye infections and skin diseases, are increasing.

“Epidemics will also increase, as people meet each other when obtaining water. The immune system of a malnourished person is weakened, and that is why illnesses such as measles, diarrhoea, colds and pneumonia spread,” says Heinäsmäki, a physician herself.

For many, the clinic is the only source of healthcare

Under the next tree, clinic staff treat expecting mothers and new mothers with their babies. A nurse sits and holds a patient’s hand. They speak quietly and confidentially. The mother feeds her newborn baby during the conversation. The mother receives iron and vitamin supplements and plenty of instructions about her and her baby’s health.

“The mobile Red Crescent clinic is our only source of healthcare. Women often have birthing complications, and the closest healthcare centre is more than an hour’s drive away,” says Raho Said Derie, chair of the local women’s committee and a midwife. Most of the women here give birth at home, assisted, at most, by a traditional midwife like Raho.

Under the third tree, the manager of the mobile clinic, Asma Omar, hosts her own outpatient clinic. She has worked here for three years and knows her patients. Perseverance is important. It is how trust and good patient relationships are created.

“At the moment, the drought and the health issues caused by it are the most serious problems. However, we are able to assist the people a lot, since we know the  patients and their illnesses.”

The mobile clinic carries a basic medication supply, including antibiotics, and patients receive medication free of charge.

In February 2016, a joint drought operation of 1.1 million Euros was launched by the Somali Red Crescent Society, the German Red Cross, and the Finnish Red Cross in Somaliland. The operation addresses the acute needs of approximately 46,000 people through water, sanitation and health, food security, health and nutritional support, and looks at underlying factors of vulnerability. The operation is financed by the  European Commission's Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department, German Red Cross and Finnish Red Cross.