Ethiopia: medication needed to tackle measles

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

By Jane Still

Measles outbreaks, decaying animal carcasses and even ash contamination from volcanic activity are combining to threaten lives in the Afar communities of Ethiopia. Partners of ACT member Anglicord are working hard to address the needs of a struggling community further impoverished by drought.

Valerie Browning, an Australian nurse now living in the Afar pastoralist community in Ethiopia, says the Afar Pastoralist Development Association (APDA) now has two emergency teams in the field.

“One is burying animal carcasses in southern Afar where thousands of animals that were weak from drought are now dead,” she says, “and a second team is in Erebti where measles has broken out in a community suffering extreme malnutrition, a community with almost no surviving animals.”

With the permission of the Bureau of Health, APDA sent a health officer to assess the situation. The officer reported several deaths from over 100 cases of measles in the Woreda region of northern Ethiopia. In the Alayta community, people were found to have been affected by ash from volcanic activity in late July. Rain subsequently washed the ash into water supplies, leading to abdominal pain and swelling limbs.

“We need an immediate joint team from APDA and the Bureau of Health to go to the community to confirm diagnoses, conduct rapid nutrition assessments, and treat the illnesses,” Ms Browning says.

For this, they need antibiotics, vitamins, and the energy dense and nutritious peanut paste, Plumpynut. While saving lives is of the utmost priority, it is also important in an emergency situation to prepare for recovery. As well as continuing long term health, literacy and economic projects, APDA has been carrying out, Ms Browning hopes to raise funds to assist over 4000 households “who are absolutely destitute”. By and large, she says, this means restocking goats.

“A family needs 10 goats to get up from their knees,” she says.

Image: A young mother and her children from the Biru region, which was affected by a volcanic eruption. This community is destitute, and before the volcano had lost its stock in the drought. The severe acute malnutrition rate in their community is nearly 6%. Photo: Abduljaliil Ahmad