The increasing flow of refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has put Ugandan health facilities in affected areas under unprecedented strain at a time when inadequate hygiene conditions have already led to a deadly cholera outbreak.
Nearly 70,000 Congolese have arrived in Uganda since the start of 2018, fleeing violence back at home. Inadequate hygiene conditions – including poor access to safe and clean water – resulted in a cholera outbreak that killed more than 40 people in Kyangwali and Kyaka II refugee settlements. More than 2,000 cholera cases are still being managed.
“Cholera remains a serious risk for thousands of refugees,” said Dr Fatoumata Nafo-Traoré, Regional Director for Africa at the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC). “Access to clean water and proper sanitation is one of the most urgent needs for the Congolese refugees in Kyangwali and Kyaka II. The current water trucking system is not able to supply enough clean water to all areas of Kyangwali Refugee Settlement.”
More than 80 per cent of the refugees are women and children and many of them are in poor health
The refugees are living in overcrowded temporary shelters which, coupled with limited access to safe and clean water and inadequate sanitation facilities, are contributing to the spread of cholera and other communicable diseases. Health facilities in affected areas in Uganda are struggling to cope with the number of refugees suffering from respiratory tract infections, malaria, diarrheal diseases and psychosocial conditions.
Robert Kwesiga, Secretary General of Uganda Red Cross, said: “We are worried that there may be a flare-up of more cholera cases. Some refugees arrive from DRC with cholera and this partly explains the deaths registered so far. Our Red Cross volunteers are working hard to stop the spread of the current outbreak.”
“Red Cross teams have put in place prevention and control measures at reception centres and are constructing sanitation facilities. They are also building mass water treatment plants, delivering safe water and providing hygiene promotion activities for refugees and host communities.”
To support these efforts, IFRC is appealing for nearly two million Swiss francs to help deliver immediate and potentially life-saving emergency services to 18,000 newly-arrived Congolese refugees – the majority of them women and children – for nine months.
“More than 80 per cent of the refugees are women and children and many of them are in poor health,” said Mr Kwesiga.
“Most arrive exhausted, traumatized and with limited personal belongings. Their children lack even the most basic clothing. They face protection concerns as their family structures have collapsed, and they are in urgent need of nutrition, shelter and health assistance, including psychosocial support.”