UNHCR responds to public health threats in Dadaab refugee camps

Briefing Notes, 28 September 2012

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Andrej Mahecic to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 28 September 2012, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

Following indications of an outbreak of acute jaundice (largely caused by hepatitis E virus) among refugees in Dadaab camp complex in northern Kenya, UNHCR is running a comprehensive public health response focusing on improving sanitation facilities and promotion of good hygiene practices. With more than 473,000 inhabitants, the overcrowded Dadaab refugee complex now comprising five camps is the largest refugee settlement in the world.

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. The first case of jaundice was detected in Ifo 2 refugee camp six weeks ago. Most of the hepatitis-E cases have been registered in camps with inadequate number of latrines and among new arrivals with poor hygiene habits. There is no vaccine for Hepatitis E virus although one is in an initial phase of development in China.

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

Meanwhile, the Kenyan authorities have reported some 80 cases of cholera in Kenya's 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 camps 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 at Hagadera camp hospital and additional staff have been trained to handle cases. At present, there are adequate 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. Forecasts for the region are 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 diseases and our public health efforts in Dadaab camps are addressing this issue in particular. 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.

For further information on this topic, please contact:

  • In Kenya (Dadaab): Mans Nyberg on mobile +254 704 807 205
  • In Kenya (Nairobi): Emmanuel Nyabera on mobile +254 733 995 975
  • In Geneva: Andrej Mahecic on mobile +41 79 200 7617
• DONATE NOW •

 

• GET INVOLVED • • STAY INFORMED •

UNHCR country pages

Public Health

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

Dadaab: World's Biggest Refugee Camp Turns 20

Last year, 2011, was the 20th anniversary of the world's biggest refugee camp - Dadaab in north-eastern Kenya. The anniversary is a reminder of the suffering of the Somali people, who have been seeking safety and shelter for two decades. UNHCR, which manages the Dadaab complex, set up the first camps there between October 1991 and June 1992. This followed a civil war in Somalia that in 1991 had culminated in the fall of Mogadishu and overthrow of the Siad Barre regime.

The original intention was for the three Dadaab camps to host up to 90,000 people. However today they host more than 463,000 people, including some 10,000 third-generation refugees born in Dadaab to parents who were also born there.

Last year's famine in Somalia saw more than 150,000 new arrivals, a third of the camp's current population. Overcrowding and stretched resources as well as security concerns have all had an impact on the camp, but UNHCR continues to provide life-saving assistance.

Dadaab: World's Biggest Refugee Camp Turns 20

Dire Times in Dadaab

Angelina Jolie's visit to Dadaab in north-east Kenya puts a spotlight on the overcrowded camp complex, home to tens of thousands of refugees.

When UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie visited Dadaab in north-east Kenya on September 12, 2009, she saw first-hand some of the tough conditions that tens of thousands of refugees must live in. The overcrowded three-camp complex is home to more than 285,000 mainly Somali refugees, making it the largest refugee settlement in the world. The camps were established in the early 1990s and were intended for a maximum of 90,000 people. Up to 7,000 people are now arriving every month to escape continuing conflict in Somalia. Jolie talked to residents about their daily life and their exile. These images show her meetings with the refugees of Dadaab and show some of the conditions they live in. Aside from overcrowding, they face water shortages, crammed classrooms, health problems, the coming rainy season and a range of other difficulties. UNHCR hopes new land will be allocated soon for the new arrivals.

Dire Times in Dadaab

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

Somalia: UN High Commissioner For Refugees In MogadishuPlay video

Somalia: UN High Commissioner For Refugees In Mogadishu

UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres visits Mogadishu, expresses solidarity with Somali people on eve of Ramadan.
Somalia: Solutions For Somali RefugeesPlay video

Somalia: Solutions For Somali Refugees

In Kenya, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres discusses solutions for Somali refugees.
Somalia: Saving LivesPlay video

Somalia: Saving Lives

Donor support for a specialized maternity-child clinic helps save the lives of displaced Somali mothers.