El Niño and health

El Niño and health

WHO overview report on the global health implications of El Niño in 2016.

The El Niño phenomenon, whereby warmer than usual ocean water develops in the central and east-central equatorial Pacific, affects rainfall patterns and temperatures in many parts of the globe.

This occurs most intensely in the tropics, and with significant impacts on human health. El Niño in 2015-2016 is the strongest such event for decades, and is currently affecting the health of millions of vulnerable people in the Horn of Africa, southern and eastern Africa, South Pacific, Central America and South Asia.

Adverse climate conditions are expected to peak in January 2016, but the health consequences will likely worsen as the full effects of El Niño are felt throughout 2016. In response to this unfolding global challenge, the World Health Organisation (WHO) have produced an analysis of the current and expected evolution of El Niño conditions, and their impacts on health, around the globe.

This overview updates and expands on the WHO Status Report: Health Preparedness for El Niño, and aims to give a consolidated outlook of the health situation and actions taken by Ministries of Health, WHO, and partners.

 The report highlights affected regions and countries where health actions are needed urgently to increase preparedness and scale up response to the El Niño in 2016.

The overview discusses recent and ongoing actions by WHO and various health sectors for El Niño preparedness and response, and outlines three main recommendations: assess and monitor how El Niño can alter health risks in your area; develop strategies and activate emergency preparedness and response measures; and develop effective communication strategies with national meteorological and hydrological services and other partners.

Regional and country overviews are then presented in more detail.

The report highlights four key concerns for health due to the impact of El Niño:

  • Millions of people in the south western Pacific (4.7m), Central Africa (4.2m) and southern Africa (30m) are being affected by extreme drought and acute water shortages, leading to increased malnutrition and diarrhoeal diseases. This adds additional burdens to health systems already constrained.
  • In the Horn of Africa in particular, a devastating drought has affected 22 million people, followed by unusually heavy rains. This has caused a high-risk of vector-borne disease and communicable disease outbreaks, especially among displaced populations.
  • The heavy rains and flooding in eastern Africa caused by El Niño risks spreading the outbreak of Cholera in Tanzania. There is also a risk of resurgence of Rift Valley Fever.
  • Following severe flooding in Paraguay in December which led to the evacuation of 100,000 people, wetter conditions are expected to result in further flooding in South America, particularly Peru, Ecuador, and Bolivia. This brings with it increased risk of vector-borne diseases, respiratory infections, and damage to health system facilities.
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