IRC Responds to Measles Outbreak Among Somali Refugees in Kenya’s Congested Camps
The International Rescue Committee is launching an emergency measles vaccination campaign targeting thousands of refugee children in Hagadera camp to contain an outbreak of the disease at the massively overcrowded site.
The IRC has confirmed six cases of the highly contagious virus and suspects 19 other cases in Hagadera, one of three overflowing camps in Dadaab, eastern Kenya
“Measles could spread like wildfire in such terribly congested conditions as those in Dadaab,” says Kellie Leeson, IRC country director in Kenya. “Our team is working quickly to contain the outbreak – dedicating extra staff, sourcing 20,000 measles vaccines, and isolating suspected measles patients in the IRC’s hospital.”
An average of 7,000 Somalis have poured into Dadaab every month this year — fleeing worsening violence at home. Many arrive dehydrated, exhausted and hungry, which makes them more susceptible to disease. Hagadera was originally designed for 50,000 people, but it’s now home to more than 93,000 refugees. Such huge numbers put a severe strain on the camp’s services, especially health care.
The IRC emergency campaign begins on Thursday, 2 July. “We’ll initially target children under five with vaccinations and vitamin A supplements, as this age group is the most vulnerable,” explains Leeson. “Our teams will also prioritize the areas where the outbreak has been concentrated, including one Islamic school where the first cases were reported.”
The IRC is working closely with community and religious leaders, the Ministry of Health in Garissa and other international organizations as part of the containment effort.
IRC community health workers will go from house to house to identity additional cases and provide information to families about the disease. They will use a public address system to get the message out to people at busy market places and water points. The IRC and partners are also working in camp schools to educate children about measles symptoms and treatment.
Aid agencies in Dadaab, including the IRC, have already had to respond to a cholera outbreak earlier this year, which saw around 30 people taken seriously ill.
Leeson says the overcrowded camps have become breeding grounds for disease and that it’s urgent that the Kenyan government keep its promise to allocate more land for the refugee population.
To date, more than 275,000 Somalia refugees have fled brutal civil war at home and sought shelter in Dadaab. Heightened fighting between Islamic insurgents and government forces in Somalia’s main cities like Mogadishu means that this number is unlikely to decrease in the near future.