Targeting the vulnerable in emergency situations: who is vulnerable?
AffiliationMédecins Sans Frontières Holland, Nairobi, Kenya.
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AbstractBACKGROUND: Emergencies such as wars and natural disasters increase the vulnerability of affected populations and expose these populations to risks such as disease, violence, and hunger. Emergency public health interventions aim to mitigate these effects by providing basic minimum requirements, reducing vulnerability, and reducing exposure to risk. Targeted services are generally aimed at children under 5. Mortality rates among young children are higher than the crude mortality rate (CMR) among the whole population in emergency settings, so attention is focused on this age group. However, even under normal conditions mortality is higher in young children. This analysis compared the relative risk of death for young children with that for older children and adults under normal conditions and in emergency settings. METHODS: Mortality data from refugee camps set up in response to three different emergencies were examined. Baseline mortality rates in the refugees' countries of origin were calculated from published data. Relative risks between normal and emergency conditions were calculated and compared. FINDINGS: Mortality rates were higher among children under 5 than among older children and adults both under normal circumstances and in the emergency setting in camps in Tanzania, Uganda, and Zaire. However, the relative risk for under-5 versus over-5 mortality was smaller under emergency conditions than under normal circumstances. Thus, children over 5 and adults are disproportionately more affected by exposure to emergency risks than are younger children. INTERPRETATION: If the objective of intervention, to reduce mortality, is to be achieved, the population over the age of 5 cannot be ignored. Emergency public health needs to develop specific tools to investigate risk in other age groups (as well as children under 5), to identify causes, and to design programmes to address such needs.
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