Top 10 Underreported Humanitarian Stories of 2009

Once a year the international medical aid organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontiers (MSF) releases a list of ten stories that received little media attention despite the fact that they concern some of the most urgent humanitarian issues and crises in the world. This year's list, their twelfth, focuses in part on the devastating consequences of war and political unrest on civilian populations. It also lists malnutrition and AIDS, both of which kill millions every year.

  • Democratic Republic of Congo: In 2009, extreme violence involving rebel groups and government forces did not discriminate amongst its victims in eastern Congo, where thousands of women, children, and men were raped, killed, and forced from their homes. Here, cholera, measles, sleeping sickness, Ebola, and malnutrition are symptoms of a broken health system. In an incident in the Masisi region, civilians and aid workers—with the full support of the Congolese Ministry of Health and a security guarantee—administering measles vaccinations were caught in the fire of the Congolese army.
  • Somalia: Health care indicators in Somalia are among the worst in terms of immunization, maternal mortality, malnutrition, and access to basic health care services. This, combined with severe drought and continued violence, make for miserable living conditions for those Somalis who weren't among the 20,000 to 25,000 killed in fighting between African Union- and UN-backed Transitional Federal Government forces and opposition groups since 2007.
  • Sudan: The ongoing crisis in Darfur, coupled with a deteriorating situation in southern Sudan marked by increased violence; outbreaks of meningitis, measles, cholera, and malaria; and lack of accessible health care, qualify Sudan for the 2009 list.
  • Sri Lanka: Innumerable civilian casualties have resulted from the decades-long civil war in Sri Lanka. Tens of thousands of civilians were trapped for months in a war zone reduced to a narrow strip of jungle and beach, with no aid and limited medical care, while the Sri Lankan army fought the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.
  • Pakistan: Intense violence has gripped Pakistan as conflict between the Pakistani army and armed opposition groups in the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) and in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) has escalated and has displaced more than two million people, while numerous bombings in major Pakistani cities killed hundreds and injured thousands. Throughout the country, people suffer from a general lack of health care, and Pakistan suffers from one of the highest infant and maternal mortality rates in the region.
  • Afghanistan: As a result of the escalation of war during 2009, Afghans are enduring increased violence. Those in need of health care must travel hundreds of miles through a war zone to seek medical care. Even if they make it to the hospital or health care structure, they are not safe; in Afghanistan, the once clear distinction between armies, reconstruction, and development activities and humanitarian aid has become confused—“health care has become part of the battlefield.”
  • Yemen: Northern Yemen added a sixth war to the five ongoing. Hundreds of thousands of civilians have been displaced and have no access to healthcare. The malnutrition rate amongst children under five has skyrocketed, and the country is ill-equipped to absorb the tens of thousands of Somali refugees and Ethiopian migrants who come to Yemen in search of a better life.
  • Malnutrition: Fifty-five million children suffer from malnutrition and
  • an estimated 3.5 to 5 million children die each year from malnutrition-related causes—that is one death every six seconds. While our understanding of malnutrition and its treatment (with therapeutic ready-to-use foods) has greatly improved, lack of funding, inefficient spending, and violence combine to hamper relief efforts.
  • AIDS: An estimated ten million people living with HIV/AIDS in the developing world are in urgent clinical need of antiretroviral (ARV) therapy. HIV/AIDS is the leading cause of death among women of child-bearing age worldwide and accounts for more than 40 percent of deaths of children under the age of five in the six highest HIV prevalence countries, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Eighty percent of all deaths in Botswana and two-thirds of all deaths in Lesotho, Swaziland, and Zimbabwe are due to AIDS.
  • Neglected Diseases: More than 400 million people are at risk for the neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) visceral leishmaniasis (kala azar), sleeping sickness, Chagas disease, and Buruli ulcer. The first three are among the deadliest of all the NTDs, and all four have been highlighted by the World Health Organization (WHO) as especially troublesome due to treatment and diagnostic tools that are old, ineffective, or worse, simply non-existent, and with patient populations stuck in remote or insecure areas with little or no access to health care. Even worse, research and development (R&D) of new medicines and diagnostics is woefully underfunded.

Source: MSF, 2009