Nairobi–(ENEWSPF)–07 Oct 2009 – The International Rescue Committee (IRC) has activated its emergency preparedness plan for Influenza A H1N1/A virus viral outbreak after 21 cases were confirmed in two large refugee camps in Kenya – collectively home to more than 320,000 people.
There have now been 5 confirmed cases in Kakuma camp, northwestern Kenya, as well as 16 cases in Hagadera, Dadaab – one of the world’s largest refugee camps, where overcrowding and lack of resources are already putting a strain on healthcare systems.
“The majority of people affected usually recover without antiviral treatment or other forms of specialized medical care, as they only experience a mild illness,” says IRC doctor Gitau Mburu. “Indeed, none of the infections in Kakuma or Dadaab are currently life-threatening and the majority of the patients have already recovered.”
“However, in congested refugee camps it’s essential to strengthen surveillance, prevention and treatment measures in order to minimize the effects of the outbreak,” adds Dr Gitau. “With the current overcrowding in Dadaab in particular – and therefore the potential for contagious diseases to spread – it is good practice to be prepared.”
As a precaution, the IRC has secured 1,000 doses of Tamiflu from the U.N. refugee agency in both Dadaab and a further 500 in Kakuma. The IRC has set up isolation wards at both its hospitals – although there are currently no severe cases admitted – and installed extra hand-washing points around health facilities.
Dr Gitau adds: “IRC staff and refugee leaders have received a refresher training in the symptoms, management and prevention of H1N1/A. Our medical staff are educating patients at clinics and feeding sites, and our community health workers are going from shelter to shelter, informing families about what precautions to take.”
The IRC is coordinating closely with the Ministry of Public Health and Sanitation, the U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR), other healthcare providers and refugee leaders in both Dadaab and Kakuma.
However, this latest health incident in Dadaab illustrates yet again the need for a general medical screening center to be established there, so that new arrivals to the camp can be screened before they enter the site.
“The Government of Kenya has agreed to set up a new medical screening center at Dadaab, as well as to release a fourth plot of land to ease the intense over-crowding inside the camp,” says Dr Gitau. “However, both have yet to materialize and this has serious implications for the health of refugees.”