AfricaEthiopiaEthiopia DroughtHealthIn-Depth AnalysisOromia Regional StateSocial Affairs

In-depth analysis: Diarrhea ravages drought-stricken Guji, Borana zones in Oromia; officials say medicines, water purifying chemicals short

Residents fetching water from a dirty pond in Gooroo Doolaa Worda in Guji zone. Picture: Gooroo Doolaa Communication Bureau

By Dereje Gonfa @DerejeGonfa

Addis Abeba – Residents of Guji, West Guji and Borana zones of Oromia regional state told Addis Standard that diarrhea outbreak was ravaging many households in several areas. However, local and region health officials who spoke to Addis Standard said there was shortage of water purifying chemicals and medicines to filter the water being delivered by water trucks, which is contributing to increased number of diarrhea cases but it has not reached the level an outbreak.

Guji and Borana zones are two of the eight zones in Oromia that are hit hard by lack of food and water due to the current drought, which has left close to 7 million Ethiopians in need of food aid in Ethiopia, according to the UN. The Ethiopian Ministry of Health and Ethiopian Public Health Institute, along with the regional health bureau, are working to respond to the crisis and have launched an immediate investigation, the federal Ministry of Health said.

Boru Dullecha, a resident of Negelle Borena city in Guji zone, told Addis Standard that four of his family members were getting treatment for diarrhea. “The problems that are brought into Guji zone as the result of drought are countless, it’s becoming a threat to our lives,” Boru said, adding that “absence of appropriate response from different stakeholders worsening the problem.”

According to him, “bad smell and water pollution caused by the bodies of dead animals have put the health of the society in danger. Trucks that used to serve us water deliveries have now stopped due to security issues. Many patients with diarrhea are traveling on donkeys, since there is no transportation service in these areas. In Guji, no one is aware about the health situation; we requested officials but couldn’t get the response.”

Locals who spoke to Addis Standard say it amounts to an outbreak and it is severe in rural villages, where “people use to drink any kind of water from any source” Boru further said. He believes that the communities couldn’t have been affected this much “if there was enough access to [water purifying] chemicals to filter the water. Now, the number of patients is continuously increasing from day to day, specially children, who are suffering a lot. We need immediate solution,” he said.

Residents queuing around water truck in Gooroo Doolaa Worda in Guji zone. Picture: Gooroo Doolaa Communication Bureau

Gumi Godana, a resident of western Guji zone, Bule Hora town, shared Boru’s frustration, and stated that the problem was worse in rural areas. “Many cattle are dead due to illness. The water is polluted when the dead bodies of these cattle are swept into it. Since there is no other source of water other than this, the residents use the same polluted water, causing the outbreak in many districts.” Gumi says the outbreak is spreading fast and wide, and that “many children and women were admitted to health centers. But there is no attempt to filter the water by chemicals yet. We have a great reservation on the silence [from authorities] while many people lost their lives due to famine, and now this disease is killing many.”

Guyo Tulle of Borena zone, Wachille district, is another resident who corroborated the widespread presence of the diarrhea outbreak in the areas. Lack of clean water and shortage of food are still the main reasons for the death in that district. “One day a small downpour of rain added debris of dead bodies of cattle to the water, but the communities continued to drink the same water because there is no other choice. Even the water trucks serve this polluted water to the public. The problem has now changed and dozens of people are being treated on a daily basis,” Guyo told Addis Standard.

Before this happened, one or two patients were admitted per week. Now about 70 patients come to the healthcare centers daily. We are out of medicine stock that could have lasted a year under normal circumstances.”

Boru Bule

Boru Bule, who organizes health care facility support in Wachille district, said that “the number of patients with severe diarrhea being admitted to health care centers was increasing from day to day. Before this happened, one or two patients were admitted per week. Now about 70 patients come to the healthcare centers daily. We are out of medicine stock that could have lasted a year under normal circumstances.”

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According to Boru, managing the diarrhea outbreak is not beyond the capacity of healthcare professionals, but they are running out of medication. “The shortage of medications can be detrimental to the lives of diarrhea patients. People who didn’t make it to the hospital have died from this, Diarrhea is fatal if not treated,” Boru said and pleaded with governmental and non government organizations to provide medicines as well as water purifying chemicals.

Arero Bicicha, the administrator of Yabelo General Hospital, on his part told Addis Standard that the hospital has been receiving cases of diarrhea that were referred to it from local health centers. “However, we have more cases of malnutrition than diarrhea.”

He stated that malnutrition due to the drought was making the peoples’ immunity weaker; and all the domestic animals that perished due to the severity of the drought remain laying around, exposing the local community to all sorts of disease. The number of people coming to the hospital due to various diseases, not only diarrhea, is also increasing, he said.

“We are facing shortage of medicine, [because] we are not getting enough supply. Patients admitted to the hospital don’t have enough food to eat; they need medication that enables their body to recover. These patients have a long hospital stay, but we don’t have the medicine that matches the number of patients,” Arero said.

“We are facing shortage of medicine, [because] we are not getting enough supply. Patients admitted to the hospital don’t have enough food to eat; they need medication that enables their body to recover. These patients have a long hospital stay, but we don’t have the medicine that matches the number of patients”

Arero Bicicha

According him, more than 54 children are receiving treatment at the hospital for malnutrition. Women and elderly are also affected by malnutrition and other complications. Many have lost their lives to drought induced health problems, he said. He underlined the severity of the situation and pleaded for a lasting solution. “We plead to concerned bodies to provide a lasting solution. Both patients with malnutrition and diarrhea require treatment, but the latter is fatal and requires immediate attention.”

Molu Dima, head of Borana zone health office, has admitted to the increasing case of diarrhea but refutes it was an outbreak. “It has not reached an outbreak level yet,” he said, but admitted that “because of water shortage people are forced to consume contaminated water that has exposed the community to diarrhea and other related diseases.”

Molu reveals diarrhea cases have increased in Dillo, Wachille, Dire Miyo, Taltallee and other districts of the Borana zone, and complained about shortage of medicines, “The problem is aggravated by shortage of medicine and lack of water purifying chemicals,” he said, adding “the corpses of animals that perished [due to the drought] is complicating the situation further”. At the moment, local authorities are mobilizing the community to bury the remains to alleviate the problem, Molu said.

“The number of diarrhea cases have increased but this is not an outbreak. The drought affected areas are susceptible to such diseases, so we focus on preventing death”

Abera Botore

Molu expressed his fear of catastrophe a prolonged drought could bring, and explained the situation to the delegation led by the Minister of Health. Dr. Lia Tadesse, who visited Borana recently. “If the drought continues like this, the number of people with diarrhea and other related diseases will increase. We have explained this to the delegation stressing on the importance of supplying medicine and water purifying chemicals and the delegation promised to provide it in a very short time.”

Abera Botore, the deputy head of the Oromia health bureau, also admitted that reports received by the local health bureaus show a significant increase in diarrhea cases. Abera attributed the increase to water contamination. According to him the water distributed using water trucks in several areas was not treated due to shortage of purifying chemicals. However, unlike the local community, he too refused to call it an outbreak. “The number of diarrhea cases have increased but this is not an outbreak. The drought affected areas are susceptible to such diseases, so we focus on preventing deaths,” he said. He also refuted reports of death from diarrhea.

A picture posted by Dr. Lia Tadesse after her visit to Borana showing corpses of dead cattle laying around a field.

On 22 February, officials from the Ministry of Health, including Minister Lia Tadesse, and the Ministry of Agriculture, WHO Ethiopia, FAO Ethiopia & UNICEF Ethiopia, jointly visited the drought affected Borena Zone. “During the visit, the delegation discussed with zonal leaders on the emergency response and gaps for further intervention, & handed over 31 metric tons of emergency medical supplies from WHO Ethiopia,” Dr. Lia said. AS

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