Instability in Mali increases health risks for children and mothers

UNICEF officials are warning that the crisis in the North of Mali has dramatically increased the risks from diseases such as cholera, measles and polio and could increase maternal and infant deaths. Cholera prevention measures will be needed for some 500,000 people in Mali. These include increasing the chlorine level in water networks, educating communities, and delivering water, health, sanitation and hygiene kits. UNICEF is also planning a public education campaign on cholera.

NEW YORK (May 22, 2012) — UNICEF officials are warning that the crisis in the North of Mali has dramatically increased the risks from diseases such as cholera, measles and polio and could increase maternal and infant deaths.

UNICEF Health Manager George Fom Ameh says the risks of the spread of vaccine-preventable diseases such as polio and measles have increased.

A scheduled polio campaign failed to take place last week in the North, and with people moving across borders, the disease risks being imported from neighboring countries where there are cases.

More than half of all health facilities have been vandalised, and the number of health professionals is down by as much as 25% of previous levels. There is also concern about a lack of skilled care for women during pregnancy and childbirth, increasing the risk of maternal and newborn deaths.

Nicolas Osbert, Manager for Water, Health, Sanitation and Hygiene at UNICEF, says a rise in cases of cholera is also likely.

In 2011, 55 people died from more than 1,300 cases in five regions: Gao and Timbuktu in the North; Segou and Mopti in Central Mali; and Kayes in the West. By far the largest number—1,000 cases—were in the North. Cholera is endemic in the country, and with municipal water supplies in the North hit by a scarcity of fuel, UNICEF is preparing for a rise in the numbers of cases.

In 2011, West and Central Africa suffered from one of the largest cholera epidemics in recent years with 105,248 cases in 17 countries, leading to 2,898 deaths.

Cholera prevention measures will be needed for some 500,000 people in areas at risk in Mali. These include increasing the chlorine level in water networks, educating communities, and delivering water, health, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) kits.

UNICEF has already distributed WASH kits—which include soap and household water treatment supplies—for 10,000 people in the regions of Gao, Timbuktu, Segou and Mopti and will preposition additional supplies before the rainy season starts in July. UNICEF is also planning a public education campaign on cholera and will ask for additional resources to deal with this critical issue.

In the South of the country, home to 87% of the children at risk for severe acute malnutrition, a life-threatening form of the condition, UNICEF is delivering ready-to-use therapeutic food. UNICEF continues to support the Ministry of Health in providing medicines and health care for the populations in the South.

UNICEF has appealed for $33 million for its emergency response in Mali for the next six months, and so far has received just over half of that amount. An additional $4 million is needed to tackle cholera.

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About UNICEF

UNICEF has saved more children's lives than any other humanitarian organization in the world. Working in more than 150 countries, UNICEF provides children with health care, clean water, nutrition, education, emergency relief, and more. The U.S. Fund for UNICEF supports UNICEF's work through fundraising, advocacy, and education in the United States.

UNICEF is at the forefront of efforts to reduce child mortality worldwide. There has been substantial progress: the annual number of under-five deaths dropped from more than 12 million in 1990 to 7.6 million in 2010. But still, 21,000 children die each day from preventable causes. Our mission is to do whatever it takes to make that number zero by giving children the essentials for a safe and healthy childhood. For more information, visit www.unicefusa.org.

For additional information, please contact:
Susannah Masur, U.S. Fund for UNICEF, 212.880.9146, smasur@unicefusa.org