Over 380,000 children have received polio vaccination in newly accessible areas of southern Somalia in recent months. Credit: WHO
Health agencies are reaching more people but need better financial support.
UN agencies and humanitarian partners are reaching more people with much-needed healthcare services in parts of southern Somalia that were once inaccessible due to conflict and insecurity.
“The lack of health services in Somalia has the same effect as conflict; it displaces people,” said Dr. Omar Saleh, the World Health Organization’s
(WHO) Emergency Coordinator for Somalia. “Entire families are forced to move to areas close to functioning medical facilities. Women and children sometimes walk for weeks to reach a clinic. After the long walk, they usually find out that there isn’t enough medicine or medical personnel to help them.”
With improved access to many southern regions that were under the control of anti-Government forces, WHO and NGO partners have managed to establish or expand health facilities so that they are now serving almost a million Somalis. Five towns throughout the area have permanent or mobile health facilities, and hospitals have scaled up emergency surgery services. In January alone, WHO, the UN Children’s Agency UNICEF and NGO partners were able to vaccinate some 145,000 children in about 14 major towns including Afgooye, Kismayo and Baidoa.
“People were so enthusiastic when we finally arrived in areas that were almost completely cut off from humanitarian aid for years,” said Jean-Se Munie, head of OCHA South-Central Somalia. Jean-Se had led many of the fact-finding missions in newly accessible areas of southern Somalia in the past six months to assess the needs of the communities.
“Sometimes negotiating with local elders and the newly established authorities are one of the most challenging parts of our job. The key is to make everybody understand that humanitarian aid does not take sides and it is intended for the people who need it,” he added.
Health workers have also been able to focus more on providing a variety of medical services including hypertension treatment, eye surgery and diabetes care, but a lack of funding remains major concern, said the WHO’s Dr. Saleh.
“This is just the beginning… the needs are still enormous. No medical centre in Somalia provides cancer treatment, renal dialysis or neonatal surgery. Health is too often taken for granted by individuals, organizations and donors. With the current funding situation, we will be unable to continue supporting the hospitals we had established last year.”
This year, health organizations need US$90 million to provide essential services but have not received any funding so far. The OCHA-managed common humanitarian fund for Somalia has allocated over $9 million for health-related projects in 2012 and early 2013. Although the funding has helped provide emergency healthcare, more support is urgently needed.
Malnutrition rates in Somalia are still among the highest in the world, with one in seven children under five acutely malnourished. Two thirds of these children are in southern Somalia and need medical assistance. Aid organizations say they have been unable to reach millions of children in the Galgaduud, Hiraan and Middle Juba regions of the south due to lack of funding and limited access.
“Over 800,000 children living in south-central Somalia have been at high risk of deadly diseases including polio paralysis and measles for years,” said Dr. Saleh. “Hundreds of thousands of children, in areas humanitarians cannot access, are still at risk of preventable diseases.”
Reporting by Roberta Russo/ OCHA Somalia