News / Africa

Refugee Camps Spread Life-Threatening Diseases

Vidushi Sinha
Hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing violence in the Middle East and Africa are living in sub-standard conditions. This according to United Nations relief agencies, who report that serious food and water problems are turning many of these camps into breeding grounds for a range of life-threatening diseases. Health officials say outbreaks of cholera, malaria, and acute jaundice - coupled with widespread malnutrition - are threatening the lives of many who thought they would be safe when they fled to the camps.  

At a crowded camp in South Sudan, where thousands have come to escape the region's military conflict, officials report that an outbreak of Hepatitis E - a viral infection transmitted by contaminated food and water - is posing a grave challenge to camp residents.

Adrian Edwards, spokesman for the United Nations' Refugee Agency [UNHCR], talks about the proliferation of various diseases.

"Hepatitis E hits young people between the ages of 15 and 40 hardest. In the three camps where we see refugees with acute jaundice syndrome, more than half are between 20 and 39,” said Edwards.

Prevention is crucial

Many camps in African countries, such as South Sudan, Sierra Leone, Libya, Nigeria, and others, have reported severe cholera outbreaks. In the case of cholera or jaundice, officials say containment is very difficult. They believe the best approach to deal with these infections is to prevent them.

Dr. Peter Hotez, an infectious disease expert, said cholera often threatens people living in extreme conditions - whether those conditions result from political or natural disasters.
“The vibrio cholerae bacillus produces a toxin which is unlike lot of other bacteria, and this toxin has the ability to poison cells in such a way that you can no longer absorb water from your gastrointestinal tract and so you can start secreting massive volumes of water and so you can become just a shriveled, desiccated individual in just a few hours after the infection,” he said.

Hotez said cholera can be prevented with proper hygiene and sanitation. But once there is an onset of diarrheal symptoms, he said, oral rehydration is key to saving lives.

Focusing on children

UNICEF estimates that nearly 400,000 African children under five will need treatment for severe acute malnutrition this year. These weakened children are more vulnerable to cholera and a host of other diseases.

Pillar Bauza is with the U.N. refugee agency and she is working with children in refugee camps across Africa.

"We have high rates of mortality, above the emergency threshold plus high rates of malnutrition,” she said.

Along with medical treatment, UNICEF-supported clinics in many camps are distributing water purification tablets, and teaching displaced families how to stay healthy.

Refugee camps along the Turkish-Syrian border also have recently reported cases of cholera and malaria. Experts say these infections - along with measles, meningitis and a host of other bacterial, viral and parasitic diseases - all have the potential to become deadly epidemics in crowded camps, where poor sanitary conditions are commonplace, and daily meals and safe drinking water can be hard to come by.

You May Like

Multimedia Brussels Schools, Metro Reopen Under Heavy Guard

City remains under the highest threat alert level due to what authorities have described as a 'serious and imminent' threat of attack

Video Debt-ridden Refugees Await Onslaught of Lebanese Winter

Aid agencies are attempting to reduce potentially devastating consequences of freezing conditions and snowstorms that killed eight last year, including three Syrian refugees

Americans Think About Strange Stuff at Thanksgiving

Millions of Americans are celebrating Thanksgiving, but they’re not necessarily thinking about turkey and stuffing

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.
After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against ISi
November 24, 2015 3:04 AM
The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs