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MSF Teams Continue to Fight Famine in Angola
July 9, 2002
Teams from Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) continue to find people suffering from severe malnutrition and high death rates in newly accessible zones in Angola. A thorough epidemiological study by Epicentre, MSF's research partner, in Bailundo, Huambo province, and a rapid evaluation by MSF teams in Mavinga, Cuando Cubango province, confirm that the crisis remains acute in some parts of the country.
Similar pockets of famine have been discovered throughout the country for the past three months. A cease-fire signed in April ended 27 years of civil war, in which millions of people were displaced because of the policies and practices of both sides in the conflict. For years, many people had no access to aid, and aid agencies were unable to operate in much of the country. Thousands have already died in what is one of the worst nutritional emergencies to hit Africa in the last decade.
In Bailundo, MSF is treating more than 700 severely malnourished children at a recently opened therapeutic feeding center. The nutritional study conducted in mid-June covered nearly 15,000 people and found one child in six in the area suffering from malnutrition, with malnutrition being the most significant cause of death. The mortality rate of 5.7 deaths /10,000 people per day is more than double the internationally accepted emergency threshold, and 75% of the deaths recorded in the population were to children under the age of five.
"In spite of the fact that there is an alarming rate of malnutrition in 18% of the children, the general distribution of food remains insufficient," said epidemiologist Vincent Brown, MD, chief coordinator of the study.
In the southwest province of Cuando Cubango, MSF only recently gained access to people in the Mavinga region. An estimated 7,000 people live in near-complete isolation, and an additional 40,000 former Unita soldiers and their families are gathered in quartering areas around the city. Travel to and from the area has been made difficult by the destroyed infrastructure and presence of mines.
The general state of both of these populations is miserable, with insufficient food aid and non-existent medical care. For the moment, MSF is the only organization intervening.
A rapid evaluation showed that an urgent nutritional situation persists in the area, with 32% of the children under five suffering from moderate malnutrition and 10% suffering from severe malnutrition. As elsewhere, a rapid assessment of mortality shows rates substantially higher than the threshold that defines an acute crisis.
In Mavinga, MSF treats more than 100 children at a recently opened feeding center designed to provide emergency medical care to critically malnourished children. There are plans to set up additional structures to help an anticipated several hundred more in the coming weeks. MSF also organized food distribution for 1,000 families and vaccinated 10,000 people against measles.
"What is particularly alarming," said Thomas Nierle, director of MSF operations in Geneva, "is that we continue to discover zones, that were previously inaccessible, with particularly high death rates and catastrophic rates of malnutrition."
An estimated 500,000 people are at risk of serious malnutrition and over one million are dependent on aid to survive, according to the United Nations' World Food Program.
In late June, MSF shipped more than 280 tons of milk and food to the country. These supplies will allow MSF to maintain its 44 feeding centers for the next three months. The most recent shipments, including milk, high-protein biscuits, and corn-soya blend, arrived late last week in Angola's capital, Luanda, and will be distributed immediately to various MSF programs throughout the country.
Currently, more than 175 international volunteers and 2,000 national staff are treating more than 14,000 malnourished people at 44 feeding centers throughout the country. The mobilization of aid in Angola is the largest intervention MSF is undertaking worldwide.