(IRIN) – Hospitals in the Somali capital, Mogadishu, have been hit by a shortage of drugs following the arrival of large numbers of drought-displaced people in the past two months, with health officials reporting that up to five patients were dying daily due to disease outbreaks.
“Hospitals are experiencing shortages of medicines yet they need to distribute drugs to deal with outbreaks of measles, diarrhoea, malnutrition, malaria and respiratory diseases,” Aden Ibrahim, the Health Minister in Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government, told IRIN in Mogadishu.
A severe drought has hit many parts of Somalia, with civil society officials reporting that hunger-related deaths were on the rise as areas that were previously not drought-prone were also affected. The hunger-stricken were moving to the city and other urban areas in south-central Somalia in search of help.
At a press conference on 15 July in Nairobi, US deputy Assistant Secretary of State, Reuben Brigety II, said historically, those fleeing their homes were financially and physically able to leave, while those remaining behind were often worse off.
He said the ongoing crisis in Somalia was different. “We are seeing now even the poorest of the people in Somalia are leaving – farmers, herders, people for whom there just is no food any more.”
In Mogadishu, Ibrahim said the city was no longer able to handle the flood of desperate people.
“At least three to five children are dying daily [in the hospitals] following disease outbreaks as a result of the large influx of the drought-displaced in the city,” he said.
Lul Mohamoud Mohamed, the director of Banadir Hospital, the largest in Mogadishu, said the facility had exhausted its medical supplies due to a sharp increase in the number of patients.
“No organization supports the hospital directly; we used to get medicine from DBG [Daryeel Bulsho Guud, an NGO based in Germany] as well as medicine for diarrhoea and measles from UNICEF [UN Children’s Fund] and WHO [World Health Organization] but we have run out, due to the large number of patients we’re receiving,” Mohamed said.
She said hospital authorities had written to UNICEF, WHO and other organizations for help but had yet to get a response.
Most of the children referred to Banadir, Mohamed said, were in a serious condition.
“Three to four of the estimated 100 children we receive at the hospital daily die; we cannot save them because we are now in a situation where we cannot do anything, especially for those suffering from measles,” Mohamed said.
A month ago, she said, the hospital used to receive up to 70 child referrals daily, “but now we receive about 100 referrals because of the outbreak of diseases such as measles and diarrhoea in the city”.
In the first quarter of 2011, Banadir received 160 measles referrals and 440 other referrals in the second quarter, Mohamed said.
“We received 1,228 child diarrhoea patients in the first quarter and another 2,003 in the second quarter,” Mohamed said, adding that the facility registered 160 and 440 cases in the first and second quarter, respectively.
While otherwise healthy children recover from measles within two or three weeks, the consequences can be severe for displaced children who are already vulnerable. WHO says that “particularly in malnourished children and people with reduced immunity, measles can cause serious complications, including blindness, encephalitis, severe diarrhoea, ear infections and pneumonia”.
The outbreak is facilitated by low immunization coverage in the areas currently affected by drought, according to Tarik Jasarevic, a media and advocacy officer with WHO. “There was already a weak health system and problems with water and sanitation in these areas,” he said.
In neighbouring Kenya, where many Somalis have sought refuge, WHO, UNICEF and the Kenyan Ministry of Health are planning a measles and polio vaccination campaign that will target 215,000 children under-five. De-worming tablets and Vitamin A will also be provided.
The campaign will target children in Mogadishu, and those who live along the Kenya-Somali border, including the Dadaab refugee camps in Kenya, Fafi and Lagdera districts and migration corridors such as Garissa municipality