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23 February 2017, Al-Hudaydah, Yemen - 

“Hospital staff have not received their salaries for the past 5 months. There are acute shortages of certain medicines and we need more fuel to ensure the hospital has electricity,” says Dr Khaled Suhail, Director of Al-Tharwa Hospital in Yemen’s third largest city, Al-Hudaydah.

With more than 1200 employees and 320 beds, Al-Thawra Hospital is the main functioning health facility in Al-Hudaydah and neighbouring governorates.

Every day, around 1500 people seek care at the hospital, a 5-fold increase since 2012 due to the influx of people displaced by ongoing conflict and the closure of other health facilities in the area. 

Last week alone, several thousand displaced men, women and children arrived in Al-Hudaydah Governorate, overwhelming already weakened health facilities and overburdening vulnerable host communities.

The Al-Hudaydah port, one of the main entry points to the country, is functioning at minimal capacity, significantly increasing the prices of goods, including medicines, and reducing economic activity in the city. As a result, many patients are unable to pay the minimal fees for hospital services. 

Despite this, no one is turned away from Al-Thawra Hospital and hospital staff provide care to everyone, regardless of whether they can afford to pay. Recently, however, the hospital had to stop providing food for inpatients due to lack of funds.

“The World Health Organization (WHO) assists us by providing fuel and medicines for emergency interventions, and supporting the hospital’s therapeutic feeding centre.” explains Dr Suhail. “However, with no funds for operational costs, we never know if we will still be open one month from now.”

Collapsing health system in Yemen

Since the escalation of the conflict in March 2015, health facilities across Yemen have reported more than 7600 deaths and close to 42 000 people injured. The country’s health system has been another victim of the conflict. 

The budget allocated to health authorities has been drastically reduced, leaving health facilities without funds for operational costs and health care workers without regular salaries since September 2016.

“With more than 14.8 million people lacking access to basic health care, the current lack of funds means the situation will get much worse,” says Dr Nevio Zagaria, WHO Acting Representative in Yemen.

Only 45% of health facilities in Yemen are fully functional and accessible, 38% are partially functional and 17% are non-functional. At least 274 of those facilities have been damaged or destroyed during the current conflict. Highly specialized medical staff, such as intensive care unit doctors, psychiatrists and foreign nurses have left the country.  

Nutrition crisis

Almost 4.5 million people in Yemen, including 2 million children, require services to treat or prevent malnutrition, representing a 150% increase since late 2014. Of special concern are almost 462 000 children suffering from severe acute malnutrition and at risk of life-threatening complications such as respiratory infections or organ failure.

“Last year more than 100 children died from severe malnutrition in our therapeutic feeding centre” says Dr Suhail. “The majority of children who come here are from Al-Hudaydah city itself. Those from outside the city can’t afford the cost of transport, so many children simply die at home.”

WHO has established 15 therapeutic feeding centres in 7 governorates, and plans to open an additional 25 centres as the numbers of malnourished children increases across the country.

Urgent funding needs

“We are asked to fill gaps created by the collapsing health institutions,” says Dr Zagaria, “but last year, WHO received less than half of the US$ 124 million required.”

This year United Nations agencies and nongovernmental organizations working to support health care in Yemen are appealing for US$ 322 million, of which WHO is requesting US$ 126 million.

“We urgently need resources to help support the health system as a whole, and are calling on donors to scale-up their support before more innocent lives are lost unnecessarily,” says Dr Zagaria. 

Media contact:

Tarik Jasarevic
Media Relations
World Health Organization
Mobile: +41 793 676 214
23 February 2017

Since the beginning of 2017, 201 cases of meningitis were being reported by 19 health districts in Togo. However, the district of Akebou, which is part of the Plateau Region, issued an alert at week 2 with 4 cases of meningitis.  In week 4, the epidemic threshold was reached with nine cases and an attack rate of 12.4 per 100 000 inhabitants. From 2 January through 12 February, 48 suspected meningitis cases with three deaths have been reported with a case fatality rate (CFR) of 6.3%. Of these, 14 specimens were confirmed as serogroup W by PCR.

The Plateau Region, together with the other 3 regions in the country benefited from the mass vaccination campaign with MenAfriVac in December 2014.

Public Health Response:

1.     Additional doses of meningitis vaccines have been requested from the International Coordinating Group (ICG) for the vaccination campaign
2.     WHO Field Mission deployed in the field to strengthen outbreak management
3.     Efforts are underway to strengthen meningitis surveillance at the district level
4.     There is training of clinicians at the district level on case management
5.     Cross-border meetings with Ghana and Benin are taking place
6.     Sensitization of the population for early use of health centres

WHO Risk Assessment and Advice:

The largest burden of meningococcal disease occurs in the African meningitis belt. Although the successful roll-out of MenA conjugate vaccine has resulted to the decreasing trend of meningitis A, other meningococcal serogroups are shown to have caused epidemics. This report of the N. meningitidis W outbreak in Togo calls for a close monitoring of the changing epidemiology of meningococcal disease. There is a need to ensure that global stocks of vaccines are available, laboratory and epidemiologic surveillance systems are strengthened and outbreak response strategies in the countries are on hand.

Epidemic response consists of prompt and appropriate case management with reactive mass vaccination of populations.

·         N. meningitis serogroup W is responsible for large-scale epidemics and may pose a challenge to public health system due to high incidence, fatalities and sequelae.

·         Togo is part of the African meningitis belt and annually records cases and deaths due to meningitis. In 2016, the country recorded an epidemic in the northern part whose germ was the Neisseria meningitidis W. A total of 1975 cases and 127 deaths had been reported.

·         The disease can spread to neighbouring countries especially Benin and Ghana. Last year, the Togo outbreak was a spread of the meningitis outbreak in Ghana. 

·         WHO does not recommend any restriction on travel and trade to Togo based on the information available on the current outbreak.

Date: Fri, 24 Feb 2017 03:19:34 +0100

Johannesburg, Feb 24, 2017 (AFP) - A 5.7-magnitude earthquake hit near Africa's Lake Tanganyika early Friday, the US Geological Survey said, with the epicentre in northen Zambia.   The quake, which was 10 kilometres (six miles) deep, struck at 00:32 GMT about 45 kilometres from the Zambian town of Kaputa, which lies near the borders of Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of Congo.   In December 2005, a powerful earthquake struck the Lake Tanganyika region of East Africa.   That 6.8-magnitude quake shook buildings in cities throughout the east and central African region.   Much of the eastern African region lies in the Great Rift Valley, a massive geographical feature created by shifting of tectonic plates and volcanic activity.
Date: Thu, 23 Feb 2017 19:49:42 +0100

Benghazi, Libya, Feb 23, 2017 (AFP) - Authorities in control of eastern Libya on Thursday imposed foreign travel curbs on residents aged between 18 and 45, saying they would need security clearance.   "Libyan men and women aged between 18 and 45 are forbidden from leaving the country without prior security clearance from the relevant authorities," said General Abdelrazek al-Nadhouri, military commander of forces loyal to authorities in the east of Libya.

The aim was "to put in place the necessary regulations to confront dangers from abroad which threaten national security" and not to damage the rights of Libyans, he said.   The permits are to be issued by the intelligence services.   A decision announced Sunday by the same general banning women under 60 from travel abroad without a male guardian has already stirred outrage among ordinary Libyans.

Libya has been wracked by chaos since the 2011 toppling of long time dictator Moamer Kadhafi, with rival authorities and militias battling for control of the oil-rich country.   The authorities in Libya's east have refused to recognise a UN-backed unity government in the capital Tripoli.
Date: Thu, 23 Feb 2017 19:21:25 +0100

The Hague, Feb 23, 2017 (AFP) - A passenger plane skidded along a runway at Amsterdam's busy airport Thursday as its landing gear collapsed on hitting the ground during heavy winds, but no passengers were injured, officials told AFP.   Video images of the Flybe plane carrying 59 passengers and crew from Edinburgh showed the plane struggling to stay on course as it came in to land at Schiphol airport, with The Netherlands buffeted by a strong winter storm.

The plane came to rest on the runway, but with its right wing tipped over to the side close to the grass. Airport officials said they were still investigating the cause of the incident.   "The plane's landing gear collapsed as it came in to land," Schiphol spokesman Jacco Bartelds told AFP.   "Nobody was injured. They are evacuating passengers now and taking them to the airport building by bus," he added.   The Netherlands took the brunt of gale-force winds on Thursday afternoon as the storm -- which killed one woman in Britain -- caused flight delays and cancellations at Schiphol, one of Europe's largest hubs.

The Dutch weather service said winds at times were gusting up between 100-120 kilometres per hour (62-75 miles per hour).   Around 100 flights were cancelled at the airport and 60 percent of all flights have been delayed by the bad weather, another Schiphol spokeswoman Willemeike Koster said.   Elsewhere, the wind blew over trucks and trailers on the highways, and littered roadways with fallen branches.   Dutch meteorologists have sent out a "code orange" alert for most of the western part of The Netherlands until early Friday.
Date: Thu, 23 Feb 2017 18:29:26 +0100

Barcelona, Feb 23, 2017 (AFP) - More than 17,000 ducks will be culled in Spain after a highly contagious bird flu strain that has affected poultry throughout Europe was detected at a farm, authorities said Thursday.   The virus found in Catalonia is H5N8, said Meritxell Serret, in charge of agriculture in the north-eastern region -- the same one that has seen hundreds of thousands of ducks and geese slaughtered in France's southwest.   Up until now, the virus had only been detected in Spain in three wild animals.

The H5N8 strain can spread quickly in affected farms, often leading to the culling of thousands of birds.   Joan Guix, in charge of public health in Catalonia, sought to ease fears, saying it was a virus "that does not spread to humans."   Health authorities in Catalonia are now inspecting farms within a three-kilometre (1.9-mile) radius of the affected location to see if the virus had spread.   According to the World Organisation for Animal Health, 24 countries in Europe have detected the H5N8 virus this year, as have China, Egypt, Cameroon and India.
Date: Thu, 23 Feb 2017 14:08:46 +0100

Milan, Feb 23, 2017 (AFP) - A strike at Alitalia hit the travel plans of thousands of people on Thursday as the Italian carrier was forced to cancel 60 percent of flights.   Unions called a four-hour stoppage hitting domestic and international flights from 1300 GMT in protest against a major restructuring which is set to see Alitalia shed hundreds of jobs and slash salaries.

The carrier sought to minimise inconvenience to passengers with mailed, texted and phoned warnings and said more than half would be able to fly later Thursday. Alitalia added it had found workaround solutions for some 90 percent overall.   But the firm is "in a critical situation," union leader Nino Cortorillo told AFP.   "We have been waiting for months for shareholders to come up with a strategic plan" to salvage a "deteriorating financial situation," said Cortorillo.   "Staff are very concerned. They have already been through two restructurings in 2008 and in 2014," which between them saw 9,000 jobs go.

Media reports indicate there could be up to 3,000 layoffs from a total workforce of 12,000 -- already down from 20,000 in 2008.   "But we don't get told anything," complained Cortorillo.   He accused the company of failing to respect national worktime and pay guidelines, something he said was "unprecedented in our country."

Alitalia continues to struggle despite Etihad Airways taking a controlling 49 percent stake in 2014 and injecting 560 million euros ($590 million) as part of a 1.8 billion euro rescue deal designed to return the airline to profitability this year.   The Italian carrier last year made a 460 million euro loss and faces a similar shortfall this year.

Alitalia's Australian CEO has been working on a new strategic plan to lift the company's fortunes.   Initially scheduled for early February, the plan, involving "radical changes", salary cuts and cutting jobs as well as greater focus on long haul, is now set to be unveiled early next month.   Cortorillo warned Alitalia's problem "is a very weak long haul presence" while it is "strong on short haul, where low-cost competition is tough".   Last month, Italian Transport Minister Graziano Delrio called for a clear strategic plan to be laid out ahead of any discussion on layoffs.
Date: Wed, 22 Feb 2017 20:26:51 +0100

Los Angeles, Feb 22, 2017 (AFP) - Thousands of people were ordered to evacuate their homes early Wednesday in the northern California city of San Jose as floodwaters inundated neighbourhoods and forced the shutdown of a major highway.   Authorities said the flooding -- the worst in 100 years -- was caused after Coyote Creek, which runs through Silicon Valley, burst its banks following
days of heavy rain.

The area under evacuation covers a large swath of the state's third-largest city, home to about one million people.   About 14,000 live in the area threatened by the floodwaters and more than 200 had to be rescued by firefighters in inflatable boats late Tuesday.   Rescuers sprayed polluted muck off of residents before loading them on buses and sending them to shelters set up in schools and community centres.   The evacuation order came after the Coyote Creek crested to a historic 13.6 feet, nearly four feet above the flood stage.

The Coyote Creek swelled after an area reservoir overflowed.   "This is a once-in-a-100-year flood event," National Weather Service meteorologist Roger Gass was quoted as saying by the Los Angeles Times. "This is a record level."   Speaking at a news conference on Tuesday, San Jose mayor Sam Liccardo acknowledged that authorities had not anticipated the magnitude of the disaster and should have acted more quickly in ordering the evacuation.   "Any time we're showing up in boats to get people out of their homes, there's been a failure," he said. "Clearly we fell short if the first time folks are hearing about having to get out of their home is when we're showing up in a boat."   It was unclear when residents would be allowed back into their homes.
Date: Wed, 22 Feb 2017 16:52:41 +0100

Managua, Feb 22, 2017 (AFP) - An Argentine volcanologist and Nicaraguan guide who fell into an active volcano were in good health Wednesday after being rescued by firemen, officials in Nicaragua said.   The 60-year-old researcher, Rodolfo Alvarez, and his specialized guide, Adriac Valladares, 25, fell into the crater of Masaya Volcano just south of the capital on Tuesday.

The two slipped about 450 meters (1475 feet) down the inside the active volcano when their rope broke and reportedly suffered dehydration from the high temperatures.   They had been working just over the crater's lip when the accident occurred, the government said on an official website.    Firemen used ropes and harnesses to climb down to save them.    Both men were in "good condition and stable," the government said.   Masaya Volcano, located 20 kilometers (12 miles) south of Managua, features a lava lake and is a big draw for scientists and tourists alike.
Date: Wed, 22 Feb 2017 15:11:04 +0100

Conakry, Feb 22, 2017 (AFP) - Schools began to reopen across Guinea on Wednesday after a three-week strike and violent protests that left seven people dead in the capital this week, an AFP journalist and school staff said.   The violence in Conakry on Monday and Tuesday capped weeks of protests mainly by young people and students that prompted the government to close schools on 1st February.

The protests were in support of a strike by temporary teachers demanding full-time government contracts.   On Wednesday, students began trickling back into classrooms in the capital and in other cities, with the country's biggest secondary school, Lycee Donka, seeing 60 percent attendance, teacher Bangaly Traore told AFP.

But staff at a nearby school reported only 20 percent of students and 15 percent of teachers present, while schools in the cities of Labe and Kankan were reported to be 33 percent full.   Schools reopened after unions struck a deal with the government late Monday, but some teachers told AFP the deal fell short of their demands.