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Disease threat in refugee camps

19th July 2011

Millions of people are at risk of contracting cholera and measles in Ethiopia, where there is a severe drought.

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The disease is especially poised to strike in the most crowded areas of the country's cities, and in refugee camps, where fighting and drought conditions have brought nearly 2,000 Somali refugees per day.

According to World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates, up to 5 million people in Ethiopia are at risk of becoming dangerously ill.

The ongoing drought also affects people in Djibouti, Kenya, and Somalia, raising people's infection risk for polio, cholera, and measles.

A spokesman for the WHO, said it was very important to help countries stay polio-free, and that so far no polio cases had been detected in the drought-ridden Horn of Africa.

Polio is the result of an acute viral infection which leads to nervous system damage in about 1% of cases.

Two million children in Ethiopia are also at risk of catching measles, with nearly 18,000 measles cases reported there since the year began.

Marixie Mercado, a UNICEF spokeswoman, said that Ethiopian officials reported 17,584 measles cases, including over 100 deaths, during the first half of this year.

The majority of cases were in children.

The disease has also begun to spread in Kenya's Dadaab refugee camps, home to 300,000 people, where 11 deaths and 462 infections have been recorded.

Adrian Edwards, a UNHCR spokesman, said that his organisation planned to airlift 100 tonnes of tents and other aid supplies to the border region where the camp is located.

Antonio Gutierres, the high commissioner for refugees, said that Kenya's decision to extend the Dadaab camps would prevent congestion there from increasing further in the short term.

He said that humanitarian efforts also needed to take place inside Somalia itself.

An estimated 1,300 Somali refugees enter Kenya every day.

Mercado said that 10 health kits, each sufficient to treat 10,000 people over 3 months, were en route to rebel-controlled southern Somalia, in addition to other supplies which have recently arrived.

 

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