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UNHCR addresses alarming health situation of refugees in Cameroon

Making a Difference, 14 March 2014

© UNHCR/D.Mbaiorem
One of the many malnourished children arriving in eastern Cameroon from Central African Republic.

NGAOUI, Cameroon, March 14 (UNHCR) The UN refugee agency and its partners have stepped up efforts to help the growing numbers of Central African refugees arriving ill in Cameroon due to hunger and exhaustion during their arduous flight.

Most of the new arrivals have spent weeks living in the bush without access to sufficient water and food and have walked great distances to reach safety in the eastern Cameroon. An estimated 80 per cent are suffering from serious ailments such as malaria, diarrhoea, anaemia and respiratory infections, while more than 20 per cent of children are severely malnourished.

Many families have lost relatives to hunger along the way or shortly after reaching Cameroon. They are also traumatized by the horrors they experienced in north-west Central African Republic, where Anti-Balaka militias have been targeting Muslims in revenge attacks.

Fatoumata Lejeune-Kaba, a UNHCR spokesperson, said the refugee agency and its partners had taken important steps to improve the welfare and health of the desperate new arrivals. "We have moved nearly 10,000 refugees who were sleeping out in the open to settlements we have established close to the villages of Lolo, Mborguene, Borgop and Gado. There, they receive food, clean drinking water, family shelters and basic relief items."

She added that UNHCR had stepped up assistance in border areas and deployed emergency staff, including nutrition specialists and site planners. "We have funded health posts and mobile clinics in Kenzou as well as Ngaoui, Yamba and Gbatoua-Godoli in the neighbouring Adamawa region. We have also erected community shelters and latrines in Garoua Boulai and Kenzou to house women, children and elderly people."

But despite these emergency efforts, more needs to be done to cover all the needs. "We will require more donor support to expand facilities in Garoua Boulai and Kenzou and to turn them into transit centres where all arrivals can be medically screened and treated without delay. We will also be able to provide food and non-food assistance in order to avert further deaths," Lejeune-Kaba said, adding that nobody had died in the refugee sites to date.

One of the challenges facing medical workers is that people do not realize how serious malnutrition is and the importance of going straight to UNHCR or its partners for help. "We have observed that many families with malnourished children do not come to health consultations," said Dago Inegba, a UNHCR doctor.

Before the current crisis, Cameroon was hosting 92,000 refugees from the Central African Republic, who started to arrive in 2004 to escape from rebel groups and bandits in the north of their country. Since March last year, Cameroon has received more than 44,200 refugees from the Central African Republic. New arrivals are living with host families or sheltering in mosques, churches, a stadium or in makeshift sites. Some are sleeping out in the open.

By Djerassem Mbaiorem in Ngaoui, Cameroon

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Cameroon:  Malnourished ChildrenPlay video

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UNHCR's Dr. Paul Spiegel on the Border of CAR  and CameroonPlay video

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