UNHCR responds strongly to jaundice, hepatitis outbreaks in Dadaab

Making a Difference, 28 September 2012

© Australia for UNHCR/T.Mukoya
A Somali mother and her child in a medical centre in the Dadaab refugee complex.

NAIROBI, Kenya, September 28 (UNHCR) The UN refugee agency is taking strong measures to respond to an outbreak of acute jaundice in the world's largest refugee settlement, Dadaab in north-east Kenya.

The programme in the Dadaab complex home to more than 470,000 Somali refugees is focusing on improving sanitation facilities and promotion of good hygiene practices.

"As of last week, 223 cases of acute jaundice were reported across all five camps in Dadaab. Four fatalities have been confirmed, all of them women who had just given birth," UNHCR spokesman Andrej Mahecic said on Friday, adding that the jaundice was largely caused by the hepatitis E virus.

The first case of jaundice was detected in Dadaab's Ifo 2 refugee camp six weeks ago. Most of the hepatitis E cases have been registered in camps with inadequate numbers of latrines or among new arrivals with poor hygiene habits. There is currently no vaccine for hepatitis E.

"The incubation period for jaundice is one month and we fear that the number of cases may continue to grow," Mahecic said. In addition to raising the health, water and sanitation standards and awareness about the importance of hand-washing, use of latrines, and food and water hygiene, refugee health workers are also being trained in surveillance and to look for new cases.

Meanwhile, it has been reported that some 80 cases of cholera in North Eastern Province, mainly in a settlement close to the border with Somalia. It is reported that 12 deaths have occurred on the Somalia side. There are no deaths in Dadaab, where 18 cases have been identified among refugees who had contacts with affected communities near the border.

UNHCR has established a response team involving health, water and sanitation partners and daily coordination is maintained at the camp level. A cholera isolation ward has been opened in Hagadera camp and additional staff have been trained to handle cases. At present, there are resources to manage 100 cholera patients. Cholera treatment centres have been set up at the camp hospitals.

"We are concerned that water-borne diseases could spread with the arrival of the rainy season in October and November," Mahecic said, while noting that forecasts for the region were for heavier than average rainfall. This could adversely affect the sanitation situation in Dadaab as parts of the camp complex are prone to flooding.

However, bad hygiene is the major cause of infection for both cholera and hepatitis E and UNHCR's public health efforts in Dadaab camps are addressing this issue. In addition, construction of a further 6,000 latrines has started this week.

Despite a difficult security situation and restrictions on movements of staff in Dadaab, all essential services and provision of aid to refugees continue uninterrupted.

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Public Health

The health of refugees and other displaced people is a priority for UNHCR.

Health crisis in South Sudan

There are roughly 105,000 refugees in South Sudan's Maban County. Many are at serious health risk. UNHCR and its partners are working vigorously to prevent and contain the outbreak of malaria and several water-borne diseases.

Most of the refugees, especially children and the elderly, arrived at the camps in a weakened condition. The on-going rains tend to make things worse, as puddles become incubation areas for malaria-bearing mosquitoes. Moderately malnourished children and elderly can easily become severely malnourished if they catch so much as a cold.

The problems are hardest felt in Maban County's Yusuf Batil camp, where as many as 15 per cent of the children under 5 are severely malnourished.

UNHCR and its partners are doing everything possible to prevent and combat illness. In Yusuf Batil camp, 200 community health workers go from home to home looking educating refugees about basic hygene such as hand washing and identifying ill people as they go. Such nutritional foods as Plumpy'nut are being supplied to children who need them. A hospital dedicated to the treatment of cholera has been established. Mosquito nets have been distributed throughout the camps in order to prevent malaria.

Health crisis in South Sudan

Flood Airdrop in Kenya

Over the weekend, UNHCR with the help of the US military began an emergency airdrop of some 200 tonnes of relief supplies for thousands of refugees badly hit by massive flooding in the Dadaab refugee camps in northern Kenya.

In a spectacular sight, 16 tonnes of plastic sheeting, mosquito nets, tents and blankets, were dropped on each run from the C-130 transport plane onto a site cleared of animals and people. Refugees loaded the supplies on trucks to take to the camps.

Dadaab, a three-camp complex hosting some 160,000 refugees, mainly from Somalia, has been cut off from the world for a month by heavy rains that washed away the road connecting the remote camps to the Kenyan capital, Nairobi. Air transport is the only way to get supplies into the camps.

UNHCR has moved 7,000 refugees from Ifo camp, worst affected by the flooding, to Hagadera camp, some 20 km away. A further 7,000 refugees have been moved to higher ground at a new site, called Ifo 2.

Posted in December 2006

Flood Airdrop in Kenya

Running out of space: Somali refugees in Kenya

The three camps at Dadaab, which were designed for 90,000 people, now have a population of about 250,000 Somali civilians, making it one of the world's largest and most congested refugee sites. UNHCR fears tens of thousands more will arrive throughout 2009 in this remote corner of north-east Kenya as the situation in their troubled country deteriorates further.

Resources, such as food and water, have been stretched dangerously thin in the overcrowded camps, with sometimes 400 families sharing one tap. There is no room to erect additional tents and the new arrivals are forced to share already crowded shelters with other refugees.

In early 2009, the Kenyan government agreed to allocate more land at Dadaab to accommodate some 50,000 refugees. View photos showing conditions in Dadaab in December 2008.

Running out of space: Somali refugees in Kenya

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