International Rescue Committee (IRC)

IRC responds to cholera outbreak in the world’s largest refugee camp

The International Rescue Committee (IRC) is responding to a cholera outbreak in Kenya's Dadaab refugee camp complex. The outbreak threatens more than 400,000 Somali refugees who have fled fighting, famine, and the region's worst drought in six decades.

Cholera is a bacterial disease spread by contaminated water.  It can spread rapidly – particularly in a camp so crowded that many new arrivals are settling in areas where there is not enough clean water or latrines.

The IRC provides health care to more than 150,000 refugees living in two sections of the sprawling camp: Hagadera and the recently opened Kambioos.  IRC medical teams are treating up to 10 patients each day in the 24-hour cholera treatment center at the IRC’s Dadaab hospital.

Cholera causes severe diarrhea and vomiting, resulting in dehydration and death within hours if not detected and treated quickly.  

”Our health workers visit homes daily to check whether there are any cases of watery diarrhea,” said Milka Choge, the IRC’s assistant health coordinator in Kenya. “If cases are found they are referred immediately to the hospital.”

The IRC is educating camp residents about food handling and hygiene practices that can help prevent contamination and is distributing soap, along with jerry cans for collecting clean water.

The outreach efforts are paying off: Only one refugee has died since the outbreak began in August. However, heavy rains and growing insecurity are hampering access to some areas of the camp, which sits near the Somali border.  The rains, while providing welcome relief from the drought, also carry the threat of water-borne disease.

“A major concern is the flooding and shortage of latrines in Kambioos,” said Choge. “Aid organizations responsible for building latrines in Kambioos are finding access a challenge.” 

The IRC has contingency supplies such as IV fluids and diarrheal rehydration kits readily available should the growing sanitation problem contribute to a spike in cholera cases.

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