The Health Sector Gap in the Southern Africa Crisis in 2002/2003

Type Journal Article - Disasters
Title The Health Sector Gap in the Southern Africa Crisis in 2002/2003
Volume 28
Issue 4
Publication (Day/Month/Year) 2004
Page numbers 388-404
he southern Africa crisis represents the first widespread emergency in a region with a mature HIV/AIDS epidemic. It provides a steep learning curve for the international humanitarian system in understanding and responding to the complex interactions between the epidemic and the causes and the effects of this crisis. It also provoked much debate about the severity and causes of this emergency, and the appropriateness of the response by the humanitarian community.

The authors argue that the over-emphasis on food aid delivery occurred at the expense of other public health interventions, particularly preventative and curative health services. Health service needs were not sufficiently addressed despite the early recognition that ill-health related to HIV/AIDS was a major vulnerability factor. This neglect occurred because analytical frameworks were too narrowly focused on food security, and large-scale support to health service delivery was seen as a long-term developmental issue that could not easily be dealt with by short-term humanitarian action. Furthermore, there were insufficient countrywide data on acute malnutrition, mortality rates and performance of the public health system to make better-balanced evidence-based decisions.

In this crisis, humanitarian organisations providing health services could not assume their traditional roles of short-term assistance in a limited geographical area until the governing authorities resume their responsibilities. However, relegating health service delivery as a long-term developmental issue is not acceptable. Improved multisectoral analytical frameworks that include a multidisciplinary team are needed to ensure all aspects of public health are dealt with in similar future emergencies. Humanitarian organisations must advocate for improved delivery and access to health services in this region. They can target limited geographical areas with high mortality and acute malnutrition rates to deliver their services. Finally, to address the underlying problem of the health sector gap, a long-term strategy to ensure improved and sustainable health sector performance can only be accomplished with truly adequate resources. This will require renewed efforts on part of governments, donors and the international community.

Public health interventions, complementing those addressing food insecurity, were and are still needed to reduce the impact of the crisis, and to allow people to re-establish their livelihoods. These will increase the population's resilience to prevent or mitigate future disasters.

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