Happy World Health Day from Peacebuilding Solutions!
As part of Peacebuilding Solutions’ sustainable alternative to current practices in refugee aid, we want to recognize and reinforce the humanity and the dignity of all people, including refugees. Just like non-refugees, displaced persons live holistic lives: one cannot thrive on clean water alone, for example, but needs food, shelter, physical and emotional health care, safety, education, employment opportunities, and supportive community in order to flourish.
Nonetheless, each humanitarian aid sector is important in and of itself, because each sector is intertwined with the others. Today is World Health Day 2014, and the United Nations is marking the day by urging the international community to support efforts to eliminate vector-borne illnesses. “Every year, more than 1 million people die from diseases carried by mosquitoes, flies and other insects, such as triatomine bugs. These vector-borne diseases – which include malaria, dengue, yellow fever, Japanese encephalitis, Chagas disease and leishmaniasis – cause chronic illness and immense suffering for hundreds of millions more,” says Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in his message for the Day.
Photo credit: WHO
Most affected by these diseases are the world’s poorest, especially those living in remote rural communities far from health services or those in urban shanty towns; refugees can often be found living in either environment. Ban continued, “Vector-borne diseases are a serious impediment to poverty reduction and sustainable development.”
To emphasize the interconnected nature of sustainable development, Ban reminded us that vector control goes beyond the health sector: “Poorly planned development initiatives such as forest clearance, dam construction, or irrigation to boost food production may increase the disease burden,” for example. A united effort across many sectors, including environment, agriculture, water and sanitation, urban planning, and education, could effectively control this serious but eminently preventable threat.
As with sexual- and gender-based violence (SGBV), malnutrition, natural disasters, and other threats to refugees, it is better to be proactive than reactive when dealing with vector-borne diseases. UNHCR’s field manual on “Communicable Disease Control in Emergencies” states, “Prevention is better than cure, and when the planning and construction of camps is undertaken, preventing the development of vector problems should be taken into account […] Community adhesion and participation in a vector control program is essential for its success.”
Furthermore, just as every refugee is a unique individual, every incidence of vector-borne disease is the result of unique environmental conditions. “Vector control is very specific to the ecology of the vector, the epidemiology of the disease, the human and social environment, as well as resources locally available (e.g. technical staff, structures, logistics),” the field guide states. A refugee does not live in a vacuum, but is affected by the various social, economic, political, cultural, and environmental conditions just as any non-refugee would be affected.
Again illuminating the inter-connectedness of all humanitarian sectors, UNHCR’s field manual expresses, “Ensuring adequate shelter, water, sanitation, and food, and providing basic health care are the most effective means of protecting the health of those affected by emergencies. A systematic approach to the control of communicable diseases is a key component of humanitarian response, and is crucial to protect the health of affected populations.” A holistic life requires a holistic response in the face of violent conflict or natural disaster, and that is exactly what Peacebuilding Solutions is working towards.