Health & Sanitation

Diseases from unsafe water and lack of basic sanitation kill more people every year than all forms of violence, including war. That’s wrong. We all have the right to clean water. Oxfam is providing life-saving clean water, and sanitation and hygiene education in some of the world’s poorest countries, as well as in areas struck by humanitarian crises.

Cholera killing one person almost every hour in Yemen

08/06/2017

Oxfam calls for massive aid effort and immediate ceasefire.

Yemen is in the grip of a runaway cholera epidemic that is killing one person almost every hour and if not contained will threaten the lives of thousands of people in the coming months, Oxfam warned today. The aid agency is calling for an urgent, largescale aid effort and an immediate ceasefire in Yemen to allow health and aid workers to tackle the outbreak. 

According to the World Health Organisation, in the five weeks between 27 April and 3 June 2017, 676 people died of cholera and over 86,000 were suspected of having the disease. Last week the rate jumped to 2,777 suspected cases a day from 2,529 a day during the previous week. Given Yemen’s neglected medical reporting system and the widespread nature of the epidemic, these official figures are likely to be under reporting the full scale of the crisis. 

In the coming months there could be up to 150,000 cases of cholera, with some predictions as high as 300,000 cases. 

The cholera crisis comes on top of two years of brutal war which has decimated the health, water and sanitation systems, severely restricted the essential imports the country is dependent upon and left millions of people one step away from famine. 

Colm Byrne, Oxfam Ireland’s Humanitarian Manager, said: “Yemen is on the edge of an abyss. Two years of war has plunged the country into one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises, leaving it facing devastating famine. Now it is at the mercy of a deadly and rapidly spreading cholera epidemic. 

“Cholera is simple to prevent and treat but while the fighting continues, that task is made difficult and at times impossible. Lives hang in the balance - a massive aid effort is needed now. Those backing this war in Western and Middle Eastern capitals need to put pressure on all parties to the fighting to agree an immediate ceasefire to allow public health and aid workers to get to work saving lives.”

Oxfam said that the outbreak is set to be one of the worst this century if there is not a massive and immediate effort to bring it under control. It is calling on rich countries and international agencies to generously deliver on promises of $1.2bn of aid they made last month.

Money, essential supplies and technical support are needed to strengthen Yemen's embattled health, water and sanitation services. Health workers and water engineers have not been paid for months while hospitals, health centres, public water systems have been destroyed and starved of key items, such as medical supplies, chlorine and fuel. Even basic supplies such as intravenous fluids, oral rehydration salts and soap are urgently needed to enable an effective, speedy response - some of which will have to be flown into the country. Communities also need to be supported with their efforts to prevent the disease spreading and quickly treat people showing the first signs of infection. 

Oxfam Ireland is appealing to the public to donate to its hunger crisis appeal and support people facing famine in Yemen, as well as in East Africa, South Sudan and Nigeria: oxfamireland.org/hunger  

ENDS

CONTACT: For interviews or more information, contact:

ROI: Alice Dawson on 00353 (0) 83 198 1869 / alice.dawson@oxfamireland.org  

NI: Phillip Graham on 0044 (0) 7841 102535 / phillip.graham@oxfamireland.org

Notes to Editors: 

Stats on cholera outbreak: http://reliefweb.int/report/yemen/yemen-cholera-outbreak-dg-echo-who-ech...

Cholera is easily prevented with simple and affordable efforts at home and in the community, such as disinfection of water with chlorine, safe collection and storage of water, washing hands with soap, and understanding the myths, behaviours associated with cholera. When people suspect they have the symptoms they can drink a mix salt and sugar to rehydrate them while they make their way to the medical centre. 

 

Nepal now facing a double disaster

Just over two weeks since a devastating earthquake struck Nepal, there has been a second major quake.

Our teams there are rapidly assessing the situation. They include Dubliner Colm Byrne, who experienced the quake in Chautara (approx. 40km from the epicentre). 

Chautara is in the Sindhupalchowk province, the region worst affected by the first earthquake on April 25. Colm says people were afraid of the aftershocks and landslides that could follow.

“It was very powerful,” Colm says. “The ground was shaking and buildings were collapsing. I’ve also seen people being carried on stretchers.”

Oxfam is helping over 60,000 people over seven districts in Nepal, delivering clean water, emergency toilets, shelter, food assistance and hygiene kits. Reaching communities in the country’s rural districts has been challenging and initial reports suggest fresh landslides have cut off some areas.

Colm and his colleagues were fortunate not to have been beside buildings when the earthquake struck at around 12:35 Nepali time (approx. 07:50 Irish time). They were very shaken but immediately got back to work. Their concern is for those thousands of families who must now cope with what is a double disaster.

It was already a race against time to reach people before the monsoon season arrived at the beginning of June. It’s now more vital than ever for us to be able to reach as many people as possible.

“People are shocked and scared by what’s happened. They are too afraid to sleep in their homes so one of things Oxfam is trying to do is to provide spaces for people to sleep outdoors,” Colm says.

“One of the big challenges is that this is a hugely mountainous country with very few large, flat open air spaces where people can gather safely. We’ve just done an assessment this afternoon to find alternative locations.

“Whilst we don’t yet know the full extent of this second major earthquake, we do know that the people of Nepal will need much more support to help them put their lives back together.”

Thousands of you have already generously donated to this crisis and your money is helping to provide immediate aid to those in desperate need. If you haven't done so already, you can donate here, in your local Oxfam shop or by calling 1850 30 40 55.

AIDS 2014: Taking stock of achievements, honouring the dead and protecting the most vulnerable

14,000 people have arrived in Melbourne, Australia to attend the 20th International AIDS Society Conference. It takes place every two years and is the most prestigious gathering of the AIDS community, attracting leading AIDS researchers, activists, practitioners and policy-makers in the world. People living with HIV, community workers along with President Bill Clinton and Sir Bob Geldof are in attendance.

They have come here to take stock of what has been achieved to date and to discuss how to keep up the pace in the future. But they are also in mourning as a number of delegates on route to the conference sadly lost their lives in the MH17 plane crash in Ukraine. While this is an unimaginable tragedy for their families and friends, and a terrible blow to the AIDS movement; it is not the first time lives have been lost needlessly.

Since AIDS was discovered in 1981 around 36 million men, women and children have died. In 2012 alone 1.6 million died (nearly the population of Dublin and Cork put together), 210,000 of them children. And while many died at the early stages of the epidemic, when we didn't know enough about AIDS or did not have the drugs to treat it, the lives lost in recent years have happened at a time when we have the medicine at hand to treat the disease and the ‘know how’ to end AIDS.

Above: Women join in singing and dancing at the end of a short play performed by the Oxfam drama group to educate people about some of the high-risk behaviour that leads to HIV infection through traditional song, dance, poetry and plays. Photo: Annie Bungeroth/Oxfam

Yet there is progress to be proud of. According to UNAIDS (the joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS), the number of deaths has been halved since 2005; the number of new infections has also declined by 33% since 2001. We have put 10 million people on treatment. Those who died on flight MH17 have contributed to that. But we still have a lot to do. Sub-Saharan Africa is bearing the brunt of the epidemic with 69% of HIV positive people living there. Entire countries such as Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, South Sudan or population groups such as sex workers, men having sex with men and injecting drug users are being left behind with regard to HIV and AIDS services.

However, another less talked about vulnerable group are people with disabilities, estimated at 650 million or 10% of the developing world’s population. New research conducted by Oxfam Ireland, Trinity College Dublin and University College Dublin in Sub-Saharan Africa – where much of Oxfam Ireland’s work is concentrated including programmes that help people living with HIV and AIDS to get the services and support they need – found little evidence of effective HIV interventions for those with disabilities.

Where such practices existed – e.g. information made available in alternative forms to suit people with hearing, vision or intellectual impairment, or clinics adjusted to make them accessible to people with physical disability – they were of small scale and almost none were systematically evaluated. Less than half of national HIV strategic plans in East and Southern Africa recognised disability as an issue of concern, though a small number of countries – notably South Africa and Kenya – identified people with disabilities as a vulnerable group, and provided specific interventions for them.

We found a five-prong approach to be best practice. Participation (where people with disabilities are included as partners in HIV/AIDS initiatives from the outset and not just contacted for approval at the end of the process), peer led (members of the disability community lead on constructing and implementing HIV/AIDS programmes, e.g. by being trained as outreach workers for both general public and those with disabilities), integration (integrating disability friendly services into the mainstream delivery of programmes), sensitization (sensitising the disability population to information and issues around HIV/AIDS) and the creation of strategic partnerships by NGOs and service providers and government representatives with people with disabilities to pool funding and resources.

‘A country is as good as it treats its most vulnerable citizens,’ an Irish mother of a child with disability once told me. The AIDS community, in particular donors, researchers and practitioners, must continue on the path of achievements made so far to ensure people with disabilities who are living with HIV get the support and services they need. This means more research, evaluations, application of the five-prong approach and a 10% participation rate of people with disabilities in all HIV interventions. This might go some way in helping to protect one of the most vulnerable groups in our society and honouring those who have died so needlessly, including those who perished on flight MH17.

Dr. Enida Friel is Oxfam Ireland’s HIV Programme Coordinator

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The joy of clean water in DRC

“There is no way we can thank you other than through song and dance,” says Victorine, a representative of the local water committee as we are welcomed in the remote village of Mambingi in the north eastern region of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Up until June of this year, the community could only get water, the most basic of all human rights, from an unprotected local spring. They had to pass through thick forest vegetation where women felt vulnerable to get there and were often bitten by snakes attracted to the surrounding palm oil trees.

Today, thanks to our supporters at home and our local partners Hyfro, Mambingi has some 16 water points spread throughout the village managed proudly by local committees.

Importantly, the water is clean and safe. This reduces the risk of spread of preventable diseases such as cholera and dysentery, which regularly plague communities forced to drink whatever water may flow nearby.

Clockwise from top: Oxfam Humanitarian Coordinator Michael O’Riordan measures the flow rate from a new water point constructed in DRC with the support of Irish Aid. Women in DRC often have to travel huge distances to collect water for drinking, cooking and washing. A young girl collects clean filtered water from the newly constructed water points in the village of Kahamba in DRC. A young boy demonstrates the use of simple innovative hand washing facilities made from locally available materials and a simple plastic container located next to a latrine. By pressing on the stick with his foot, the boy tilts the plastic container which causes water to flow shower like from holes made in the side. Good hygiene practice such as this greatly reduces the risk of spread of preventable communicable disease.  Photos: Colm Byrne / Oxfam.

Victorine laughs at me when we ask how long she now has to travel to get to water. Leaning across and stretching out her hand, she says: “No time at all. It is right beside us.”

Mambingi is just one of 12 villages in the region which have benefitted this year from new water distribution systems with the support of Oxfam.

In the process, community members have learned the skills needed to build and care for not only these new facilities but also 577 newly constructed latrines which ensure the safe disposal of human waste without infection of local water sources. Critically, such new skills ensure community well-being not only now but their capacity and independence in doing so well into the future.

Unfortunately, not all communities in DRC are so fortunate. Twenty years of conflict in the country have claimed the lives of millions and resulted in repeated mass movements of people within the country and across its borders.

The conflict, a product of complex international, national, local, ethnic and tribal interests frequently related to competition for the country’s particular mineral wealth, has undermined growth and development. In turn, this has created a fragile political, social and economic context where most people fail to benefit from the country’s rich natural resources and where the reach of state services such as water, health and agriculture is limited if present at all.

Not long after meeting Victorine, as we prepare to leave the region, word reaches us that still more fighting has broken out and that tens of thousands of people only a few hours’ drive away have been forced to flee across the border to Uganda. Yet another tragic event in the history of DRC where life, like the water that sustains it, remains as precious as ever.

Colm Byrne is Oxfam Ireland’s Humanitarian Manager.

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