Health problems and expenditure in an area with food crisis: Mekit woreda, North Wollo Zone

  • Muluken Melese
  • Berhanu Demeke
  • Salma Elreedy
  • H. Deconinck


Background: Famine and forced migrations are common emergencies affecting large populations in developing countries. However, the effects of food crisis on the health care during these periods are not fully documented.
Objective: To assess the health problems, health-coping strategies and health care demand of non-displaced communities in food-crisis areas.
Methods: A cross-sectional study was conducted in North Wollo Zone, Mekit Wereda between May 1998 and July 1998. Households were selected using a multi-stage sampling procedure. Health-related problems were assessed for three-month recall period.
Results: In the three-month recall period, 748 (29.4%) of the 2,547 household members wee reported ill, out of which only 112 (16.3%) sought modern medical care. The annual per capita income for the surveyed population was estimated to be US$43.70. The source of income to cover the health expenditure for 72 (48.6%) of the households was from sale of animals and animal products, 32 (21.6%) from sale of grains and the rest from loans, savings, sale of household utensils, sale of fire-wood, and working in food-or cash-for-work programs. About half of the 531 studied households had no single animal, and 85.5%were dependent on food aid at the time of the study. A relatively high number of the households (24.6%) were found to consume famine food Lathyrus sativus (legume), which results neuro-toxicity when consumed for a long period as main diet.
Conclusion: The finding shows that the health-coping mechanisms are extremely exhausted during food-crisis to the extent that families cannot seek any kind of medical care. We recommend that health aid should be part of food aid during food crisis.

(Ethiopian Journal of Health Development, 2001, 15(1): 1-10)

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