MSF Issues "Top 10" Most Underreported Humanitarian Stories of 2006

"If the media does not pay attention to a certain crisis, it is almost as if this crisis does not exist."

The staggering human toll taken by tuberculosis and malnutrition as well as the devastation caused by wars in the Central African Republic (CAR), Sri Lanka, and Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), are among the "Top Ten" Most Underreported Humanitarian Stories of 2006, according to the year-end list released today by the international humanitarian medical aid organisation Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF).

The ninth annual list also highlights the lack of media attention paid to the plight of people affected by the consequences of conflict in Haiti, Somalia, Colombia, Chechnya, and central India.

"If the media does not pay attention to a certain crisis, it is almost as if this crisis does not exist. Also in 2006, intense human suffering remained in the shadows of the media spotlights," said Mr. Dick van der Tak, Executive Director of MSF-Hong Kong. "There is now media attention for the war in Somalia. But the Somali people are already affected by conflict and civil unrest for more than 15 years. The country has some of the worst health indicators in the world. Average life expectancy is only 47 years. Tuberculosis, malnutrition, kala-azar and diarrhoea are the most common health problems facing a population completely abandoned by the international community."

The 2006 "Top 10" list also focused on the devastation caused by TB and malnutrition.

The frightening situation of worldwide TB became even worse in 2006 with the detection of extensively drug resistant tuberculosis (XDR TB), a strain that is resistant to both first-line antibiotics and to two classes of second-line drugs. At the same time, none of the TB drugs currently in development, however promising, will be able to drastically improve TB treatment in the near future. "TB destroys millions of lives around the world every year, but we're not seeing the necessary urgency to tackle the disease," said Dr. Tido von Schoen-Angerer, director of MSF's Campaign for Access to Essential Medicines.

Hope is on the horizon, though, for malnutrition, with new strategies based on outpatient treatment that relies on ready-to-use therapeutic foods (RUTF) like Plumpy'nut showing tremendous promise. Unfortunately, these strategies are not implemented as widely as they could be.

"Sadly, worldwide economic development has not succeeded in reducing malnutrition. Acute malnutrition contributes to the deaths of millions of children every year," said Mr. van der Tak. "Nevertheless, progress in science and technology has made available a new medical approach towards the cure and prevention of malnutrition. It is a major challenge to introduce these new strategies to more children throughout the world."

Mr. van der Tak continued, "Increased media attention is of course no guarantee for a successful aid program. But media coverage helps to raise awareness about abandoned and neglected populations in the corners of our world. Media attention can lead to increased assistance and political attention for the plight of those in dire need of assistance and protection. However, we should realize that there are always, always other crises that need attention too."