2011 Horn of Africa Famine

Millions of people in the Horn of Africa Region have been affected by a major food crisis since April 2011. During that time, as many as 13 million residents of Somalia, Kenya, Ethiopia, and Djibouti have been facing famine conditions that developed as a result of the worst drought in the region in over 60 years which has subsequently led to extremely high food prices. Somalia has been the hardest hit with as many as 4 million people affected by the crisis that has been further exacerbated by al Shabaab Islamist militants who have banned aid agencies from providing food aid to the region and have blocked cargo trucks from entering refugee camps.

As of early 2012, estimates for the number of people who have perished from the famine ranged between 50,000 to 100,000, the majority of whom have been Somalis.

The famine has greatly affected neighboring countries of Ethiopia and Kenya as tens of thousands of Somalis have fled to camps across the borders. In October 2011, an estimated 1,150 people per day were leaving Somalia destined for the refugee camp in Dadaab, Kenya which now houses over 500,000 people and is the largest refugee camp in the world. A large number of these refugees, especially women and children, perished along the ten-day journey to Dadaab. Others faced unspeakable violence along the way.

While famine conditions are no longer present in Somalia, there are still an estimated 2.3 million people in need of aid.

The Partnership

To help respond to this crisis, Direct Relief decided to support its partner Women and Health Alliance International (WAHA), a non-profit organization with the goal of addressing maternal and neonatal health in disadvantaged communities throughout the world. WAHA has a long history of working in this region of Africa and is focused on increasing access to emergency obstetric care and preventing and increasing access to treatment for fistula and postpartum injuries.

Working with the Kenyan Ministry of Public Health and the Ministry of Medical Services, WAHA has implemented a strategy to assist the nearly 850,000 residents of the Garissa district in Kenya (where the Dadaab camp is located) who may require more advanced medical treatment and currently do not have access to basic maternity and childcare services.

Since the project began in October 2011, WAHA has upgraded upgrading the Dadaab hospital, the only tertiary hospital in the area, as well as ten primary care sites in the surrounding Garissa district in order to serve the most vulnerable people in the region and deliver quality reproductive healthcare services to reduce maternal and child morbidity. WAHA will upgrade the physical infrastructures of these 11 health facilities, build additional maternity and neonatal wards, provide medical equipment and recruit staff, train and supervise the medical staff and community health workers working in the region, and strengthen the referral system from the villages and camps to the hospital by using an ambulance system.

Our Response

In order to support WAHA’s work upgrading and caring for the most vulnerable women and children in the area, Direct Relief as provided WAHA with a $25,000 grant to purchase the necessary equipment and medications to supply these regional and district hospitals.

Additionally, in April 2012, WAHA received an ocean-freight container carrying over 10,000 pounds of essential medications and supplies such as gloves, thermometers, IV solutions, oral rehydration solution, hospital beds, and autoclaves valued at $192,000 (wholesale) to support their work in Kenya. These items were used to backfill the items that had been purchased and had since been used up.

Over the past nine months, WAHA has cared for thousands of women and delivered hundreds of babies in the Dadaab hospital, now the access point of care for residents of the largest refugee camp in the world.

One of these women is Farhiyo Abdullahi Hassan, a 22 year old from Dadaab who did not receive any medical care during her pregnancy and went into labor in the refugee camp accompanied only by her closest family members. When intense labor lasted for an extended period, her husband got worried but there was not any medical care they could access in the camp. They were told about a group who was providing free care in the Dadaab hospital and decided to make the trip and arrived at the very last minute. WAHA’s Docteur Abdullahi immediately examined her in the delivery room and five minutes later Madame Jaba, the midwife arrived as well. Thanks to their joint efforts, Farhiyo gave birth to a healthy boy of 3,44 kg. She said later, “I was extremely lucky. I dare not to think of his fate had we not had this last minute help.”

Looking Ahead

Direct Relief will continue to support WAHA with cargo shipments of essential medications and supplies to support their work. While the famine conditions have improved over the past few months, the fact remains that the region remains highly impoverished and medical care, especially for pregnant women, remains lacking, particularly in Somalia.

Maternal health in Somalia is worse than in almost any other country in the world. The majority of these deaths and morbidities could be avoided through the provision of a comprehensive series of often simple interventions with proven effectiveness, including antenatal care (ANC), skilled attendance at delivery, emergency obstetric care (EmOC) and postnatal consultations.

Direct Relief and WAHA will continue the work to improve these conditions.