Snapshots: UNICEF's recent health activities in emergencies

  • With the threat of war looming in Iraq in March 2003, UNICEF provided special therapeutic food – high-protein biscuits - for over 400,000 malnourished children across the country in an urgent effort to bolster their chances of survival in the event of a conflict. To counteract the diseases that fester in crowded, unsanitary conditions of chaos and displacement, UNICEF immunized more than four million children under five against polio and measles. After the war, UNICEF supplied medicine and supplies for hundreds of thousands of people; delivered water equipment and worked to repair vital water facilities; tankered millions of litres of fresh water into the country; supported the opening of classrooms with school-in-a-box kits; and supplied high-protein biscuits and other life-saving nutritional items to children most in need.
  • As many as 14 million people, half of them children, are at risk of starvation in the six affected countries of Southern Africa: Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe. The HIV pandemic there has contributed to a famine unlike any previous food crises.  Twenty-five percent of the productive age group – 15 to 49 years old – are living with HIV or AIDS. An estimated 4 million orphans live in the six countries. Healthy adults are forced to take time from productive activities to take care of the sick.  Widespread malnutrition accelerates the progression to AIDS because a person living with HIV needs more calories and protein to survive.


  • UNICEF is mobilizing, with governments and other partners, to identify child-headed households and provide life-saving food. Together with the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), UNICEF has conducted nutritional assessments and surveys. UNICEF has also helped prepare training materials and organize essential education for health workers, mothers and caregivers on supplemental and therapeutic feeding, such as oral rehydration therapy for children suffering from diarrhoea.   


  • In areas vulnerable to cholera outbreaks, which have been increasing in five of the six countries, UNICEF has been providing safe water; promoting hygiene, providing sanitation facilities, ensuring that adequate quantities of oral rehydration salts are available, and preparing health awareness campaigns.


  • UNICEF has been working with isolated communities in Kosovo to revive health services for returning refugees and displaced populations. In consultation with local health officials, UNICEF successfully advocated local training by visiting nurses. This has facilitated training of both Albanian and Serbian staff. The new localized training has supplemented existing skills and has built up a network of visiting nurse services across the region. [SOURCE: UNICEF Activities in Armed Conflict book, 5/3/02]


  • The children of Sierra Leone have been witnesses to nearly a decade of war, in a country that has some of the most difficult living conditions in the world. Widespread and systematic violence during conflict and emergencies, along with mass displacement, leads to a general lack of accountability and failure to guarantee basic security. In Sierra Leone, thousands of girls were abducted and used for sexual purposes or subjected to  gang rape.


  • UNICEF helped provide voluntary screening after the war to identify young girls and women at risk of HIV. After a recent UNICEF-funded survey discovered that only 7.7 percent of all young people between the ages of 12 and 21 had an adequate understanding of HIV/AIDS, UNICEF assisted government ministries in developing a national communications strategy on the topic, including a 10-part drama for broadcast on television and video. 


  • An earthquake in Gujarat, India in January of 2001 and its aftershocks affected nearly 15.9 million people, resulting in more than 20,000 deaths, 167,000 injuries, and the destruction of over 1 million homes.  Among UNICEF interventions:
    1. Three hundred hospitals and 800 early childhood development centers were destroyed or damaged by the earthquakes. To help bridge the resulting gap in health care services for Gujarat's children and families, UNICEF helped to construct more than 145 community health facilities, each serving up to 300 mothers and children.
    2. UNICEF distributed 39 emergency health kits, each of which covers the basic health needs of 10,000 people for three months; a million chloroquine tablets to prevent malaria; 73 tons of bleaching powder for water purification; and over a million packets of oral rehydration salts (ORS) to fight diarrhoeal dehydration resulting from a lack of safe water and sanitation.
    3. UNICEF provided Measles vaccine for rapid immunization of at least 400,000 children and Vitamin A for up to a million children, and helped organize immunization campaigns.
    4. UNICEF supported the training of 930 teachers in psychosocial counseling techniques to help children traumatized by their experiences during the earthquake emergency.
    5. In the wake of massive damage to the water and sanitation system in the quake zone, UNICEF distributed more than 3,400 tanks for temporary water storage.


For more information on UNICEF activities in emergencies, see UNICEF's Emergencies page .