Health conditions deteriorate in Chad's camps for displaced

By Phuong Tran
Goroukoun, Chad

In eastern Chad, violence along the Sudanese border has forced more than 100,000 Chadians into camps. Squeezed into these tents and straw huts, they compete for water at the well and a limited number of latrines. Clinics run by international agencies try to contain and treat diseases that circulate in these often waste-infested, tight living conditions. Phuong Tran visits a clinic 80 kilometers from the Sudanese border and has this report from Goroukoun, Chad.

The radio in this health tent blares constantly with reports of displaced Chadians who need medical attention. But before Bedeness Phares, a 32-year-old Chadian nurse, can answer those calls, he needs to get to the patients waiting outside his tent.

Badradina Abdoulaye enters the hot tent with her five-month-old baby. The child had been up all night with a fever and diarrhea.

Phares decides the child has a respiratory illness, and writes in the woman's small yellow health booklet given to each Chadian when they enter the camp.

Phares says respiratory illnesses and diarrhea are the most common in the camp because of the extreme 40 plus degree heat, lack of water and the some 15,000 displaced Chadians crowded into this camp.

The first patient leaves with the nurse's instructions, stepping aside to let in a woman scratching under her veil.

The second patient sits on the small bench opposite the nurse and says her whole body itches. As she talks, she quickly scratches her legs, arms and head. She throws her veil off, using both hands to scratch through her long braids.

She says she also has pains near her stomach. The nurse says she had an allergy, and gives her an injection.

For her abdominal pains, he asks if she has had diarrhea. Not yet, she says. He wants her to wait to see if she feels better tomorrow. If the pain is still there, he will send her three kilometers away to a bigger clinic for more treatment.

She slowly sits up, takes her yellow booklet, and leaves the tent.

A woman comes in and sits down on the bench to explain how she has not menstruated in two months. She says she started bleeding last night.

The nurse puts on gloves to give her a gynecological exam.

The nurse wants her to go to the hospital immediately, but she says she needs to go home to find someone to watch her children.

In this part of Chad, about 10 percent of the population has access to health centers and clinics.

Health workers worry about camp overcrowding and what will happen when the rainy season starts next month. Here, malaria is the number one killer for children under five-years-old. But for now, Phares' main concern is how to see the rest of the patients who are still waiting.