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Peace/Conflict Bill Brieger | 23 Dec 2008 06:22 am

Humanitarian Crises Overlap with Malaria

Medecins Sans Frontieres in naming its top 10 humanitarian crises of the year found that, “Aid agencies are struggling to help those most in need as operating environments become increasingly hazardous,” according to the BBC. Many obstacles exist to delivering aid to vulnerable populations from outright fighting to government resistance fearing such aid will expose their ineptitude. For example, “In Burma … hundreds of thousands of people were dying from Aids because the government was failing to act.”

Although malaria is not mentioned as a consequence of these crises, disruptions of populations often increase exposure to malaria.  Some of the crisis spots mentioned include –

  • Zimbabwe: One of the countries highlighted on the Zambezi River Malaria Expedition earlier this year.  Also a place where there has been severe difficulties implementing GFATM grants to to spiraling inflation.
  • Myanmar: WHO says that, “Malaria is the most important public health problem in Myanmar.” After the cyclone this year emergency medical supplies were needed including treatment for malaria. The border areas between Thailand and Myanmar are among the places in Southeast Asia where resistance to malaria drugs commonly starts.
  • Sudan: MSF saya that Darfur, “a region where one-third of the population has been displaced by conflict. But despite international efforts, five years into the Darfur crisis, hundreds of thousands of people remain cut off from aid. While there are clear malaria strategies for Southern Sudan, people in Darfur do not benefit.
  • Congo (DRC): Hundreds of thousands of displaced people in eastern Congo “have little or no access to health care, food, water or basic shelter.” Inter Press reports that, “With almost 200,000 people dying of malaria each year in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the disease remains the country’s biggest killer. The DRC is one of the worst affected countries in the world when it comes to malaria.”
  • Niger: Children are most vulnerable to malnutrition “during the seasonal “hunger gap”—the roughly five- to six-month period between harvests when food stocks are typically leaner.” Unfortunately this overlaps with the rainy season. ReliefWeb observes that, “While everyone is delighted to see the rains come after months of prolonged drought and famine, the health workers know that the rains also mark the beginning of the malaria season with much illness and death.”
  • Pakistan: “The fighting between government forces and anti-government militants in the North West Frontier Province and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan has intensified throughout 2008. Air strikes by United States military in the area have also increased insecurity. In August, thousands of Pakistanis were displaced within the country or fled to neighboring Afghanistan for safety.” These are areas of unstable and epidemic malaria transmission.

We have often addressed the need for health system strengthening, but these problems represent a complete break in health services.  Clearly malaria cannot be eliminated without progress towards peace.

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