UNICEF raises alarm over fast-spreading cholera outbreaks in Africa

UNICEF-daily times

The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has expressed concern over the fast spreading cholera outbreaks in 11 eastern and southern African countries, calling for an emergency fund to address the situation.

The countries are Burundi, Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Somalia, South Africa, South Sudan, United Republic of Tanzania, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. UNICEF, in a statement on Tuesday, called for emergency funding to broaden efforts to reach millions living across those countries, which had been hit hard by fast spreading cholera.

“The cholera outbreak in eastern and southern Africa isn’t just an outbreak; it’s an emergency for children,” the agency said.

It, however, called for US$ 171 million in funds to support 28 million people suffering in the region. UNICEF said tailored responses are already reaching many impacted, but more must urgently be done.

The agency said the worst cholera outbreaks to hit the region in years, are now unfolding in the 11 countries.

As such, UNICEF is developing individualised cholera response plans based on the unique conditions within each affected country. For instance, budgets for both Malawi and Mozambique include requirements to address each country’s recent flooding following the devastating effects of cyclone Freddy which has fuelled the spread of the acute often water-borne disease.

Cholera outbreaks are exacerbated by poverty, disasters, conflict and climate change consequences, like extreme storms and flooding, as well as a lack of access to safe water and sanitation, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said.

For children, the risk is high, UNICEF said, adding that the needs in affected communities in eastern and southern Africa are growing. UNICEF is currently frontloading its internal core resources to respond to the emergency “on a no-regrets basis,” the agency said. This includes new loan and grant financing and repurposed key resources to fast-track procurement needs and enhanced community outreach.

UNICEF is focused on mobilising essential life-saving support, that includes emergency health supplies, medical products, technical support for outbreak control, risk communication and community engagement for prevention and early treatment, and safe water and nutrition supplies.

“We’re also working on social protection and supporting livelihoods, as well as keeping children safe and learning,” the agency said.

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“Flexible funding will help us not just protect more children and communities in need today but also to go towards building more resilient systems to protect children in the future.”

With existing funding, UNICEF has been able to scale-up the supply of chlorine for water purification, medicine for infection prevention and control, and risk communication messages that emphasise the importance of early care and treatment for anyone infected.

While generous partners have already contributed S$18.3 million to support the cholera response, a regional funding gap needs to be swiftly bridged to broaden an effective response.

“For UNICEF and its partners to respond quickly and equitably based on need, especially in underfunded sectors, flexible resources will play a critical role,” the agency said.

“Help us eradicate cholera and remove this burden from children and families who are already carrying too much,” UNICEF said.

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