The charity Doctors Without Borders said Thursday that Kenya’s Dadaab Refugee Complex faces a high risk of measles and cholera outbreaks as thousands of new refugees arrive from areas of Somalia where the diseases are circulating.
More than 233,000 refugees live in three overcrowded camps in the complex.
Doctors Without Borders, best known by its French acronym MSF, reported a sharp rise since January in the number of people fleeing to Kenya to escape drought, hunger and violence.
Many of the new arrivals are from southern Somalia, where measles and cholera outbreaks have recently occurred, the charity said.
MSF’s deputy program manager for Kenya, Adrian Guadarrama, said Thursday in Geneva that many are being received by refugee communities inside camps, but many more are living in very poor conditions on the outskirts of the camps.
Last week, he said, MSF teams recorded three cases of measles and two suspected cases of cholera in Dagahaley, one of Dadaab’s three refugee camps.
“This should be an alarm for all the actors and stakeholders involved in the response in Dadaab. Because we know that just one case of any of these diseases can cause a full-blown outbreak very quickly, affecting not only the refugee community, but also the host community,” Guadarrama said.
Kenya’s Health Ministry last week issued a cholera alert following confirmation of 61 cases in six counties.
Guadarrama said Kenya stopped registering new arrivals in Dadaab in 2015.
Unregistered refugees, he said, cannot get basic services and assistance. He said clean drinking water is scarce, and toilets and handwashing points lacking. These conditions, he said, make the unregistered refugees highly vulnerable to life-threatening diseases.
Guadarrama said the need for measles and cholera vaccination campaigns is urgent, but that devising a strategy is complex. Some people are scattered in the outskirts, he said, while others are inside Dagahaley camp.
“We’re talking about a camp of 115,000. So, just to identify them is quite a challenge,” he said. “And this is why having screening, or a reception center or a registration center — that would be ideal — would allow us to cope with those activities and provide access to basic services including vaccination, for example.”
Guadarrama said the humanitarian situation in the camps and in the surrounding communities is not yet at the breaking point and there is still time to avoid an emergency in a long and protracted crisis.