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WHO appeals for $1.5bn to deliver healthcare in crises

by Haruna Gimba
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By Muhammad Amaan

The World Health Organisation (WHO) on Monday launched a $1.5 billion emergency appeal to provide care to more than 87 million people affected by ongoing crises in 2024, including in Africa the occupied Palestinian territory, Ukraine, Sudan, Syria and the Horn of Africa.

The appeal comes at a time when climate change, drought and other extreme weather events, are fuelling food insecurity, conflict and displacement, causing deeper and increasingly complex health emergencies, leaving healthcare increasingly under fire.

Every humanitarian crisis is a health crisis, WHO said, and each dollar invested in its lifesaving work nets a return on investment of at least $35.

Speaking from the UN agency’s headquarters in Geneva, Director-General Tedros Ghebreyesus urged donors and governments to step up support.

“There are only two ways to reduce the human suffering caused by health crises: increase the funding or reduce the needs. Neither is happening at the moment,” he said in a statement.

The UN Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Martin Griffiths, fully endorsed the appeal, saying it represented “a very small price to pay to protect the health of the most vulnerable and to prevent deepening of the global health crisis.”

For example, he said nine months of war in Sudan has stretched the country’s health system far beyond its capacity, affecting people who depend on everyday care as well as civilians injured in the fighting.

Additionally, weak disease surveillance and low vaccine coverage for preventable diseases have contributed to recurrent measles outbreaks.

Similar situations have occurred in Haiti, Somalia, Yemen, and many other countries, where infectious diseases such as cholera are both being driven by and exacerbating the broader humanitarian crisis. One billion people worldwide are now at risk of the deadly waterborne disease.

Meanwhile, “global health is under threat like never before,” Griffiths said.  In 2023, 1,300, attacks on healthcare across 19 countries were reported, leading to more than 700 deaths and 1,100 injuries to health workers and patients.

Since the start of the current hostilities between Hamas and Israel, there have been more than 624 attacks on healthcare in the occupied Palestinian territories, he said, resulting in the deaths of 619 health workers and patients, and another 826 injured.

Also speaking, Dr Mike Ryan, the head of WHO’s Health Emergencies Programme, echoed this concern.

“We are witnessing an era in which attacking healthcare has become a tactic of war – not euphemistically referred to before as collateral damage or accidental damage, but actually fundamentally a weapon that is used to increase the terror and to deny people the health service that they need,” he said.

February, marks two years since the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, where healthcare is “not just a service”, according to the UN’s top humanitarian official in the country, Ms Denise Brown.

“The availability of healthcare holds a community together,” she said, speaking from Geneva. “So, I would argue that the loss of healthcare also is the beginnings of the loss of a sense of community.”

Citing WHO, she said there have been more than 1,400 attacks on health infrastructure in Ukraine since the war began, and 14 have occurred since December 29, 2023.

Brown praised the dedicated healthcare professionals in Ukraine who continued to require immediate support from WHO and other institutions, but voiced concern over a potential decrease in humanitarian funding this year.

Earlier on Monday, the UN launched a $4.2 billion humanitarian appeal for the country.

“The war is not over, the suffering continues, and the support of Member States continues to be absolutely fundamental to the work that we do, including in healthcare,” she said. 

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