News / Africa

    Doctors Battle Psychological Trauma in Dadaab Refugee Camps

    Abdi Ibrahim, 20, at the hospital in the Dagahaley, refugee camp in Dadaab, Kenya. Doctors believe Ibrahim suffers from some form of post-traumatic stress from the journey into Kenya. Somalis often chain family members suffering from mental illness in an
    Abdi Ibrahim, 20, at the hospital in the Dagahaley, refugee camp in Dadaab, Kenya. Doctors believe Ibrahim suffers from some form of post-traumatic stress from the journey into Kenya. Somalis often chain family members suffering from mental illness in an
    Michael Onyiego

    In humanitarian crises, the immediate focus is often on providing food, shelter and medical treatment to those in need. But in Kenya’s Dadaab refugee camps, there is a small but concerted effort to help treat the psychological trauma suffered by refugees who have fled a lifetime of conflict.

    In the Doctors Without Borders hospital at the Dagahaley camp in Dadaab, Kenya, clinical psychologist Bethuel Isoe-Nyachieng’a tries to calm an hysterical patient who has recently arrived from Somalia. His name is Abdi Ibrahim, a 21-year-old who, until just a few weeks ago, was perfectly normal. His brother explained that Ibrahim began complaining nearly five months ago of worsening headaches and body pains. During the journey to the Dagahaley camp, his condition suddenly deteriorated. One night, Ibrahim woke up screaming and trying to remove his clothes.

    This is the first time Isoe-Nyachieng’a has seen Ibrahim, but at first glance he believes the young refugee’s illness has been triggered by some sort of post-traumatic stress. On their way to Dadaab, Ibrahim and his brother were robbed by bandits, though neither would explain exactly what happened. Ibrahim’s brother says Ibrahim has lately acted very violently, forcing him to bind Ibrahim’s hands with a lock and chains.

    The chains do not shock the psychologist, who says he sees them quite often in his work around the camps.

    “These patients who are captured with mental illness are those ones who are very agitated," he said. "Those ones that somebody can see they want to fight back, they want to run away and they are in chains. That is when we are called immediately for management.”

    The imprisonment of refugees with mental health issues is a stark reminder of the need for a more comprehensive approach to treating victims of famine and war. While chaining victims of trauma and mental illness seems cruel at first glance, many families in the camps do so out of concern for their suffering relatives.

    VOA witnessed one woman suffering from schizophrenia who had been chained to her house by her brother. The brother said the woman would regularly wander off from the house into the Dagahaley market and had been raped multiple times without being able to defend herself. She was chained, said her brother, in order to protect her from further abuse.

    And for those without serious mental illness, the public nature of the camps often prevents victims of trauma from recovering without the help of mental health workers. Janet Ndoti-Ndila is a counselor for CARE International at the Dagahaley camps. Ndoti-Ndila says CARE speaks with over 50 people per day in Dagahaley alone who feel they cannot turn to their family or friends for support.

    “If you tell one person about something, everybody in the community will know," she said. "So instead of being stigmatized and being discriminated, you decide not to tell anyone. You are given a name, you are the raped one.”

    Both CARE and Doctors Without Borders estimate they see around 1,400 people in the Dagahaley camp alone. While the CARE counselors do not diagnose patients, Isoe-Nyachieng’a of Doctors Without Borders says they see a range of problems from depression and anxiety to schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and manic depression.

    Perhaps the most common is post-traumatic stress disorder, which the psychologists say many suffer from the harrowing journey across Somalia, fighting both starvation and threats from armed bandits and the Islamist insurgent group al-Shabab.

    But many of the refugees in Dadaab have lived most of their lives in conflict zones, and for some psychological trauma goes back years or even decades.

    In one section of the Dagahaley camp, a family of refugees from Ethiopia had two members who suffered torture at the hands of soldiers years ago.

    Siyad Abdi Ali was just 16 when he went out to herd his family’s livestock. His mother, Fatum Mahmud Mohamed, explained that he was found days later, chained to a tree with severe injuries on his arms. His mother says he was tortured by the Ethiopian troops who regularly harassed the villagers in their area. In the eight years since the incident, Siyad has never fully recovered. Mohamed says she must keep him chained otherwise he becomes violent and destroys property.

    Ibado Mahmud, 50, at the Dagahaley camp in Dadaab, Kenya. Mahmud had her eyes removed by Ethiopian troops before travelling to the camps. Doctors believe she is suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
    Ibado Mahmud, 50, at the Dagahaley camp in Dadaab, Kenya. Mahmud had her eyes removed by Ethiopian troops before travelling to the camps. Doctors believe she is suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

    Ibado Mahmud is Siyad’s aunt. The 50-year-old woman was beaten and had her eyes removed with a knife by Ethiopian troops during an attack on her village four years ago. Mahmud said her sons were killed along with many other people in her village.

    Unlike Siyad, Mahmud has not been restrained by her family, and appears able to function independently, but psychologist Bethuel Isoe-Nyachieng’a told VOA both have been suffering from acute forms of post-traumatic stress disorder for years. They only recently began to receive treatment from Doctors Without Borders, after arriving in Dadaab around seven months ago.

    Many of Dadaab’s residents have similarly disturbing stories. Isoe-Nyachieng’a says more must be done to address their problems.

    “Mental health has not been given the emphasis that it deserves," he said. "If all can be given the same coverage, like nutrition or malaria or HIV/AIDS. If mental health can be given that level then we’ll be able to manage our patients very well.”

    There are only a handful of mental health officers to address the needs of the people in each of the three camps - a population pushing 400,000. With so many other pressing issues, psychologists within the Dadaab camps will continue to do the best they can with the resources available.

    You May Like

    Top US General: Turkish Media Report ‘Absurd'

    General Dunford rejects ‘irresponsible' claims of coup involvement by former four-star Army General Campbell, who led NATO forces in Afghanistan before retiring earlier this year

    Video Saving Ethiopian Children Thought to Be Cursed

    'Omo Child' looks at efforts of one African man to stop killings of ‘mingi’ children

    Protests Over Western Troops Threaten Libyan 'Unity' Government

    Fears mount that Islamist foes of ‘unity' government plan to declare a revolutionaries' council in Tripoli

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    By the Numbers

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunitiesi
    X
    VOA News
    July 25, 2016 5:09 PM
    By most measures, London rivals New York as the only true global financial center. But Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – so-called ‘Brexit’ – means the city could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters. Already some banks have said they may shift operations to the mainland. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
    Video

    Video London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunities

    By most measures, London rivals New York as the only true global financial center. But Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – so-called ‘Brexit’ – means the city could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters. Already some banks have said they may shift operations to the mainland. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
    Video

    Video Recycling Lifeline for Lebanon’s Last Glassblowers

    In a small Lebanese coastal town, one family is preserving a craft that stretches back millennia. The art of glass blowing was developed by Phoenicians in the region, and the Khalifehs say they are the only ones keeping the skill alive in Lebanon. But despite teaming up with an eco-entrepreneur and receiving an unexpected boost from the country’s recent trash crisis the future remains uncertain. John Owens reports from Sarafand.
    Video

    Video Migrants Continue to Risk Lives Crossing US Border from Mexico

    In his speech Thursday before the Republican National Convention, the party’s presidential candidate, Donald Trump, reiterated his proposal to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border if elected. Polls show a large percentage of Americans support better control of the nation's southwestern border, but as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from the border town of Nogales in the Mexican state of Sonora, the situation faced by people trying to cross the border is already daunting.
    Video

    Video In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movement

    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video Calm the Waters: US Doubles Down Diplomatic Efforts in ASEAN Meetings

    The United States is redoubling diplomatic efforts and looking to upcoming regional meetings to calm the waters after an international tribunal invalidated the legal basis of Beijing's extensive claims in the South China Sea. VOA State Department correspondent Nike Ching has the story.
    Video

    Video Four Brother Goats Arrive in Brooklyn on a Mission

    While it's unusual to see farm animals in cities, it's become familiar for residents of Brooklyn, New York, to see a little herd of goats. Unlike gas-powered mowing equipment, goats remove invasive weeds quietly and without adding more pollution to the air. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this is a pilot program and if it proves to be successful, the goat gardener program will be extended to other areas of New York. Faith Lapidus narrates.
    Video

    Video Scientists in Poland Race to Save Honeybees

    Honeybees are in danger worldwide. Causes of what's known as colony collapse disorder range from pesticides and loss of habitat to infections. But scientists in Poland say they are on track to finding a cure for one of the diseases. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Wall Already Runs Along Parts of US-Mexico Border

    The Republican Party’s presidential nominee, Donald Trump, gained the support of many voters by saying he would build a wall to keep undocumented immigrants and drugs from coming across the border from Mexico. Critics have called his idea impractical and offensive to Mexico, while supporters say such a bold approach is needed to control the border. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from the border town of Nogales, Arizona.
    Video

    Video New HIV Tests Emphasize Rapid Results

    As the global fight against AIDS intensifies, activists have placed increasing importance on getting people to know their HIV status. Some companies are developing new HIV testing methods designed to be quick, easy and accurate. Thuso Khumalo looks at the latest methods, presented at the International AIDS conference in Durban, South Africa.
    Video

    Video African Youth with HIV Urge More Support

    HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, is the top killer of teens in sub-Saharan Africa. But many youths say their experience with the virus is unique and needs to be addressed differently than the adult epidemic. VOA South African Correspondent Anita Powell reports.
    Video

    Video Pop-Up Art Comes to Your Living Room, Backyard and Elsewhere

    Around the world, independent artists and musicians wrestle with a common problem: where to exhibit or perform? Traditional spaces such as museums and galleries are reserved for bigger names, and renting a space is not feasible for many. Enter ArtsUp, which connects artists with venue owners. Whether it’s a living room, restaurant, office or even a boat, pop-up events are bringing music and art to unexpected places. Tina Trinh has more.
    Video

    Video Scotland’s Booming Whisky Industry Fears Brexit Hangover

    After Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, Scotland’s government wants to break away from the United Kingdom – fearing the nation’s exports are at risk. Among the biggest of these is whisky. Henry Ridgwell reports on a time of turmoil for those involved in the ancient art of distilling Scotland’s most famous product.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora