Kenya: Education, healthcare disrupted by clashes

BUNGOMA, 16 May 2007 (IRIN) - Julius Juma was a class-five student at Chemses Primary School in Cheptais division, one of four administrative divisions in western Kenya's Mt Elgon district, when he was forced to move schools because of the fighting in the area.

In December, clashes broke out between two clans of the Sabaot community. At 21, Juma was too old for class five, but he nevertheless joined another school: "I have now enrolled in Mukwa Primary School [in neighbouring Bungoma district] where I am trying to adjust to the new environment," Juma told IRIN.

Currently living with his grandmother in Mayanja, Bungoma, he is one of thousands of students whose education has been affected by months of fighting over land in a government settlement scheme in the area. At least 158 people have died and 140 were injured, according to the Kenya Red Cross Society (KRCS).

Although the situation in the district along the border with Uganda has become calmer, isolated attacks are still being reported, according to KRCS volunteer, Donald Ochieng, leading to a slow return to normality.

While most schools in Kenya reopened this month for the second term, at least 21 remain closed in Kopsiro division, the area most affected by the fighting, Ochieng said. At the height of the fighting, at least 37 schools were closed.

Attendance remains low, with most pupils having moved to schools in other divisions or to neighbouring districts.

According to a secondary school teacher in the district, Sokwony Laikong, many students from Kopsiro division have transferred to schools in other divisions such as Kaptama, Cheptais and Kapsokwony, where they opt to board.

Teachers from Kopsiro have also been redeployed to other divisions on temporary transfers. "They have been relocated to other schools where they may teach normally," Laikong explained.

One of the worst affected areas is Chepkitale, high on Mt Elgon. "There is only one school in Chepkitale, which was started through the community's initiative," he said. "But the school only goes up to class four and there is a shortage of books, classrooms and desks."

Neglect and response

According to Laikong, the people in Chepkitale have been forced to put up three makeshift schools taught by volunteer teachers in the Labot, Tomoi and Toboo areas.

Mohammed Said, the KCRS chairman in Bungoma, said the Mt Elgon district had been neglected and faced many challenges, not only in education but also with regard to access to quality healthcare.

"There is one inadequately equipped district hospital in Mt Elgon," he said. "The hospital does not even have a theatre and there is only one doctor and seven clinical officers in the district."

The health situation of the people of Mt Elgon has also been compromised by the fighting, Ochieng said.

Most of the 60,000 displaced, who were living with relatives, friends and in the forests, experienced skin infections, malaria, upper respiratory tract infections and malnutrition, a KRCS volunteer said. Intestinal infections were also common among school-children, he added.

To address the health needs of the displaced people, the KRCS, ministry of health and Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) have established mobile medical camps in the district providing ante-natal care, child care and general treatment.

"We are receiving 300 people per day in the medical camps," Ochieng explained.

The medical team comprises two clinical officers, four nurses, two counsellors, two pharmacists and a public health office. They are assisting people in areas where hospitals are closed or where no health facilities exist.

According to Ochieng, several health centres in the district were closed due to insecurity, with areas such as Chepkitale particularly affected.

Other health risks include a possible outbreak of waterborne diseases due to a lack of clean drinking water and risks for special groups (pregnant women and children younger than five) in the malaria-endemic area.

"There is also a need for proper sanitation, vaccination services and counselling," he said.

The KRCS and its partners are also addressing water and sanitation issues in schools to promote hygiene.

Meanwhile, MSF has set up a medical camp in Chepkitale where there were reports of pregnant women dying during childbirth due to lack of access to hospitals.