WHO’s famine response plan in South Sudan focuses on working with partners to prevent spread of diseases amongst people weakened by food insecurity

Woman giving PlumpyNut nutritional aid to her children in former Unity State Woman giving PlumpyNut nutritional aid to her children in former Unity State WHO

Juba, 30 March 2017 - The World Health Organization (WHO) continues to scale up its response to reduce preventable deaths and diseases, and provide health services in famine-affected areas of South Sudan. In February 2017, famine was declared in the former Unity State, where 100 000 people face starvation and another 1 million are on the brink of famine.

The total number of food insecure people is expected to rise to 5.5 million at the height of the lean season in July if nothing is done to curb the severity and spread of the food crisis. Children are particularly vulnerable to malnourishment in times of famine. In Unity State, an estimated 270 000 children and 350 000 women are affected by severe acute malnutrition.

“A malnourished child is a sick child, and if you only give them food, they will die as they need both food and care,” said Dr Abdulmumini Usman, the WHO Representative to South Sudan. “Sadly, by the time a famine is declared, it is too late for thousands of people.”  

Health is an essential part of the famine response.. Those who are malnourished are also more likely to get sick and are more likely to be affected during disease outbreaks; and when they get sick they are more likely to die.

Acute malnutrition weakens the immune system, which makes affected children, lactating/pregnant mothers and people with underlying medical conditions more susceptible to killer diseases such as measles, malaria, pneumonia and deterioration in the existing underlying medical conditions. Globally, undernutrition is an underlying factor in more than half of child deaths from pneumonia and malaria, and more than 40% of measles deaths.

WHO has a team of more than 350 people based in South Sudan who have worked closely with the Ministry of Health for many years. The team in South Sudan has been responding to this crisis for months. However, South Sudan is a country dealing with multiple crises and challenges, including conflict and weak health infrastructure, which make it a particularly challenging place to operate and obtain results.

WHO has worked closely with Health Cluster partners in famine-affected areas in former Unity State, especially in Leer, Koch and Mayendit Counties, to deliver much needed health assistance, especially during the recent cholera outbreak that continues. In 2017, WHO supported a cholera vaccination campaign, including in famine-affected areas, and provided 69 000 doses of oral cholera vaccine to Unity State. Later this year, WHO will support a nationwide measles campaign, including famine-affected areas.

Surge support to fortify WHO’s famine response

To help respond effectively to the emergency, WHO is in the midst of deploying additional personnel with specific emergency response experiences, such as on coordination, disease surveillance and information management, and additional resources, such as medicines and kits to help treat  medical complications of severe acute malnutrition.

“We want to focus our efforts on increasing access to essential health and nutritional services, plus strengthening disease surveillance and data collection,” said Dr Solomon Woldetsadik, WHO Incident Manager for the famine response. “If you can’t see where the outbreaks are happening, you can’t effectively target your response and treat the people.”

WHO's immediate priorities will be to prevent and control disease outbreaks, such as cholera, measles, malaria and polio, improve emergency health services delivery, strengthening coordination between the Government and partners at local, state and national levels, utilizing data and information to provide a more targeted response, and looking at ways to ensure resilience for service delivery in the future.

WHO requires additional funding, and currently expects the response in South Sudan to cost US$ 20.1 million, but has only received US$ 2.1 million so far. South Sudan’s Health Cluster, including WHO, is seeking US$ 145 million for 2017. Funding needs may rise as the crisis evolves.

Related links

Questions and Answers on Malnutrition in Emergencies

South Sudan