Addis Ababa – Only a few months earlier, Ablo’s infant son had a withered appearance from severe malnutrition as well as from coughing, diarrhoea, and sickness. He measured less than eleven centimetres wide at the upper arm.
A protracted drought in East Africa has left nearly 17 million people in Ethiopia in dire need of life-saving assistance, with pastoralists and agro-pastoralists in affected areas experiencing worsening hunger and malnutrition, including shortages of water and health services.
These increased vulnerabilities, coupled with weakened coping mechanisms, have led to a gradual erosion of well-being for numerous families, including Ablo Abdi, who was forced to leave her home in Layi, Somali Region due to the drought and is now sheltered at Laga Sure IDP site, in Borena Zone. The 39-year-old single mother of seven left home in June 2022, along with other families, after the severe drought decimated their camels and goats, leaving them with nothing to eat.
Severe starvation in the region has left many others, especially children and pregnant and nursing women, in a precarious condition. For instance, in the region in May 2022, the number of children under the age of five who were admitted with severely acute malnutrition jumped by 43 per cent year-on-year.
Cholera and measles outbreaks have been reported in many areas of Somali, Oromia, and the Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples (SNNP) regions, indicating that the drought has also heightened the likelihood of disease outbreaks.
According to the Expanded Programme for Immunization (EPI), 11,360 suspected cases of measles with over 80 fatalities were reported between January and October 2022. The Harana Buluk woreda in Oromia region reported the first measles case in August 2022 and by the end of October, 331 individuals in 31 kebeles, or wards, in both Oromia and Somali regions had contracted the disease.
IOM has been addressing the needs of those affected by the drought by employing a multi-sector strategy, which includes a health response. “The Organization is providing vital primary healthcare services through mobile health and nutrition teams in Moyale and Guchi in Oromia region’s Borena zone, Fafan, Dawa, and Liben zones in Somali region, and Konso zone in SNNPR region,” explains Carolyne Kipsang, Emergency Health Coordinator for IOM Ethiopia.
“These services include general consultations, nutrition treatment, reproductive health support, including antenatal and postnatal care, vaccination of children under 5, and mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS) services,” she adds.
IOM has also been working to strengthen the healthcare system by training government medical staff and equipping them to meet the growing demand for healthcare from drought-displaced people like Ablo.
Twelve IOM mobile health and nutrition teams (MHNTs) have been deployed in places such as Laga Sure IDP site in Borena zone since April 2022 to provide direct services to the most vulnerable. This response had provided crucial physical and mental health services to over 58,200 people by October 2022.
Medical consultations, routine immunization, nutrition screening and management, out-patient therapeutic programmes (OTP), infant and young child feeding (IYCF), hygiene promotion and health education, reproductive health services and referral are just a few of the services provided by the teams. The MHNTs include psychologists and social workers who address the mental health and psychosocial needs of impacted populations.
IOM is also working with regional and zonal Health Bureaus on projects to improve the standard of primary healthcare and to improve preparedness for health emergencies. In Borena, Konso, and East Hararge zones, 264 health professionals received training on priority health issues such as infant, young child feeding in emergencies (IYCF-E), measles surveillance and case management.
After IOM MHNT monitored his condition for several weeks, including follow-up home visits, Ablo's son has steadily improved. His upper arm has increased to 12.7 centimetres, and he now appears clinically healthy, alert, and cured.
“My baby Hassan Abdi looks healthy now, owing to the IOM Mobile Clinic that provided ready-to-use food to minimise the effects of severe acute malnutrition, as well as accompanying treatment, all at no cost,” exclaims an ecstatic Ablo. To help other concerned mothers, she is now actively participating in health education, healthy feeding practises, and mother-to-mother support group meetings.
This life-saving assistance is made possible through the generous funding of USAID's Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance (BHA).