Kenya

IRC activates H1N1/A readiness plan as 21 cases are confirmed in two large Kenyan refugee camps

Wednesday October 7th, 2009, Nairobi: The International Rescue Committee (IRC) has activated its emergency preparedness plan for H1N1/A virus after 21 cases were confirmed in two large refugee camps in Kenya - collectively home to more than 320,000 people.

There have now been 5 confirmed cases in Kakuma camp, northwestern Kenya, as well as 16 cases in Hagadera, Dadaab - one of the world's largest refugee camps, where overcrowding and lack of resources are already putting a strain on healthcare systems.

"The majority of people affected usually recover without antiviral treatment or specialized medical care, as they only experience a mild illness," says IRC doctor Gitau Mburu. "Indeed, none of the infections in Kakuma or Dadaab are currently life-threatening and the majority of patients have already recovered."

"However, in congested refugee camps it's essential to strengthen surveillance, prevention and treatment measures to minimize the effects of the outbreak," adds Dr Gitau. "With the current overcrowding in Dadaab in particular - and the potential for contagious diseases to spread - it is good practice to be prepared."

As a precaution, the IRC has secured doses of Tamiflu from the U.N. refugee agency in both Dadaab and Kakuma. The IRC has set up isolation wards at both its hospitals - although there are currently no severe cases admitted - and installed extra hand-washing points around health facilities.

Dr Gitau adds: "IRC staff and refugee leaders have received a refresher training in the symptoms, management and prevention of H1N1/A. Our medical staff are educating patients at clinics and feeding sites, and our community health workers are going from shelter to shelter, informing families about what precautions to take."

The IRC is coordinating closely with the Ministry of Public Health and Sanitation, the U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR), other healthcare providers and refugee leaders in both Dadaab and Kakuma.

However, this latest health incident in Dadaab illustrates yet again the need for a general medical screening center to be established there, so that new arrivals to the camp can be screened before they enter the site.

"The Government of Kenya has agreed to set up a new medical screening center at Dadaab, as well as to release a fourth plot of land to ease the intense over-crowding inside the camp," says Dr Gitau. "However, both have yet to materialize and this has serious implications for the health of refugees."

For more information, photos and interviews, please contact:

Joanne Offer, Regional Media Manager, Nairobi: +254 (0) 737 800 028. joanne.offer@theirc.org

Kellie Leeson, IRC Country Director in Kenya: +254 (0) 20 272 0063/4 Kellie.leeson@theirc.org

Michael Cowan Deputy VP, External Relations, New York: + 1 347 302 3348 Michael.cowan@theirc.org

Notes to editors:

The first case of H1N1 in Kenya was confirmed in June this year.

To date, more than 350 cases have been confirmed across the country. There have been no fatalities.

Dadaab refugee camp in western Kenya was originally designed for around 90,000 people. Today it is home to around 288,000 refugees, mainly Somali.

The IRC has been working in Kenya since 1992, providing essential services for both refugees and communities affected by conflict.

About the International Rescue Committee: A global leader in humanitarian assistance, the International Rescue Committee works in more than 40 countries offering help and hope to refugees and others uprooted by conflict and oppression. During crises, IRC teams provide health care, shelter, clean water, sanitation, learning programs for children and special aid for women. As emergencies subside, the IRC stays to revive livelihoods and help shattered communities recover and rebuild. The IRC also helps resettle refugees admitted into the United States. A tireless advocate for the most vulnerable, the IRC is committed to restoring hope, dignity and opportunity. For more information, visit www.theIRC.org.