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WHO Launches Billion-Dollar Health Appeal for Four Countries

FILE - Kurdish soldiers help move an elderly Yazidi who was released by Islamic militants in Kirkuk, Iraq, Jan 17, 2015.
FILE - Kurdish soldiers help move an elderly Yazidi who was released by Islamic militants in Kirkuk, Iraq, Jan 17, 2015.

The World Health Organization is launching a $1-billion appeal to provide life-saving health services for 21 million people in the Central African Republic, Iraq, South Sudan, and Syria. The U.N. agency warns health conditions in all four countries are deteriorating because of raging conflicts that show no signs of abating.

The World Health Organization has launched its appeal on behalf of the entire Health Cluster of more than 30 international humanitarian organizations.

The World Health Organization is running a 65 percent shortfall from last year’s multi-million-dollar appeal for the Central African Republic, Iraq, South Sudan, and Syria. It warns continued lack of support will have dire consequences for tens of millions of people.

Most of the money, $687 million, will go for Syria where 12.2 million people need humanitarian health support. WHO Country Representative for Syria Elisabeth Hoff says one of the biggest challenges is reaching people with aid.

She notes 2.7 million people are residing in Islamic State-controlled areas and another 4.8 million are living in other hard to reach areas.

“People have more difficulties to cope, particularly with the winter season, with the high number of respiratory diseases. But, what is the main fear that WHO has as we are moving forward is really the risk of water-borne diseases. We have in 2014, 31,460 cases of Hepatitis A reported. And, this normally we see when the weather is warmer and so on. But, it just tells you that people no longer have the same access to safe drinking water as before," said Hoff.

Nearly $219 million is needed to provide humanitarian health support for four million people in Iraq, more than half internally displaced by the IS onslaught. The country has been plagued by health crises since the first Gulf War II decades ago.

The WHO says the country is suffering a serious shortage of life-saving medicines. It says child immunization rates are very low and it is concerned about a resurgence of polio and an increase in measles. It says a major focus of its support will be on building up primary health care services, as they can be made readily available for people in need.

The agency is asking for $90 million to provide health care for 3.35 million people in South Sudan. WHO Country Representative Tarande Constant Manzila, says getting to inaccessible areas will be very expensive.

“Last year, for example, in 2014, we counted more than 300 UNHAS [U.N. Humanitarian Air Service] flights from out of Juba to deliver services and goods in the many states, in more than 80 locations. The money is needed today for the purchase and the pre-positioning of all the medical supplies and also mounting operations to continue delivering health services during the rainy season, which is going to start at the end of May," said Manzila.

The WHO reports nearly 1.5 million people are in need of health support in the Central African Republic and $48 million is required to provide services, including vaccinating children against measles and other killer disease, tackling malaria, respiratory infections, and life-threatening conditions such as obstetric emergencies.