Tuesday, 14 July 2015

EAC deploys Regional Medical and Public Health Emergency Support Teams to Refugee Camps in Kigoma, Tanzania and Eastern Province of Rwanda

East African Community Secretariat, Arusha, Tanzania, 13 July 2015: The East African Community (EAC) has deployed Emergency Regional Medical and Public Health Support Teams to the Refugee Camps hosting refugees from Burundi in Kigoma Region in Tanzania and at the Mahama Main Refugee Camp and the surrounding local host communities in Kirehe and Bugesera Districts in the Eastern Province of Rwanda.

The deployment has brought together over one hundred (100) medical specialist doctors and other health workers drawn from the East African Community Secretariat, the EAC Partner States’ National Referral Hospitals, the East, Central and Southern Africa Health Community (ECSA)-Health Community Secretariat, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), the International Federation of Red Cross and the Red Crescent (IFRCRC), the Tanzania Red Cross Society (TRCS), Medicines Sans Frontieres (MSF) to join their local counterparts and other health care workers based in Kigoma Region in Tanzania from 5 to 11 July 2015, and in the Eastern Province of Rwanda from 13 to 17 July 2015, to offer a wide range of services that include; Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Paediatrics and Child Health, General (Internal) Medicine, General Surgery, Orthopeadic Surgery, Ophthalmology/Eye Surgery, Oncology, Nutrition, Neurosurgery, Dental and Oral Health Surgery, Ear, Nose and Throat Surgery, among others.

According to the Secretary General of the East African Community, Amb. Dr. Richard Sezibera, the deployment of the Health Emergency Support Teams is based on Article 118 (a) of the Treaty for the Establishment of the East African Community with respect to regional cooperation in health activities whereby Partner States undertake to, among others; take joint action towards the prevention and control of communicable and non-communicable diseases and to control pandemics and epidemics of communicable and vector-borne diseases such as HIV-AIDS, cholera, malaria, hepatitis and yellow fever that might endanger the health and welfare of the residents of the Partner States, and to co-operate in facilitating mass immunization and other public health community campaigns.

Prior to the deployment, a joint technical team of health experts from the EAC Secretariat; ECSA Health Community Secretariat; UNHCR; IFRCRC; TRCS; MSF; and from the Government of the United Republic of Tanzania conducted a Rapid Public Health Needs Assessment of the affected Burundian Refugees and the local host communities in Kigoma region of Tanzania from 8 to 10 June 2015.

A similar Rapid Public Health Needs Assessment was carried out in Eastern Province of Rwanda from 15 to 19 June 2015 by same joint technical team of health experts to assess and document additional technical, financial and material resources required for further additional medical and public health support in the affected areas.

According to reports from the EAC Teams on the ground, 75,768 Burundian refugees had been registered at Nyarugusu Refugee Camp as of Thursday 9 July 2015, of which 60% were Women and Children. In the Eastern Province of Rwanda, there were 29,089 persons registered at Mahama Refugee Camp as of Wednesday 8 July 2015, of which 14,438 were females, 14,650 males and 5,981 children.

The refugee population and the local host communities in Kigoma Region in Tanzania have already experienced massive outbreaks of over five-thousand (5,000) diarrhoea-related diseases including thirty four (34) confirmed cases of cholera infections with four (4) deaths – two Burundians and two local Tanzanians and other outbreaks of various communicable diseases. Currently, over a period of four (4) days from 5 to 9 July 2015, a rapid influx of additional 2,646 Burundian Asylum Seekers/Refugees were received and registered at the Nyarugusu Main Refugee Camp in Kaulu District of Kigoma Region of Tanzania.

Since the arrival of the first group of thirty-six (36) Burundian Refugees at the Nyarugusu Main Refugee Camp on 26 April 2015, the number of Burundian refugees registers at the camp rose rapidly to 54,000 as of 10 June 2015 at the time which the EAC conducted the rapid medical and public health needs assessment in the area and an additional 22,768 new arrivals came in over a period of 30 days as of 9 July 2015. There have been 910 new babies born at the camp since April 2015 and 86 Burundian refugees have died at the camp since April 2015 up-to 9 July 2015. In addition, there are a total of 787 special needs persons among the Burundian refugee population and these vulnerable group comprise elderly persons, people with disabilities and orphaned children.

According to Dr. Stanley Sonoiya, the Principal Health Officer at the East African Community Secretariat, who is coordinating the Regional Medical and Public Health Emergency Support Teams, the medical and public health needs of the Refugees were “overwhelming because of the large numbers of the very sick and weak populations which have encountered outbreaks of various communicable diseases and many more were suffering from chronic illnesses due to various non-communicable diseases. These were being aggravated by the displacements, deprivations, lack of access to adequate and regular health care and also lack of medicines and poor nutrition as well as poor public health and sanitation facilities”.

Dr. Sonoiya notes that the situation requires a very large scale joint EAC regional inter-governmental and international multi-agency coordination and resource mobilization to be deployed to meet the required immediate and long-term medical and public health needs, including support for referrals and treatment of serious acute and chronic illnesses which require medical specialized investigations, diagnosis and proper health care management at various national referral hospitals in the EAC region.

The EAC official has recommended that the current adverse and serious medical and public health situation of the Refugees should be considered and discussed by the relevant EAC Policy Organs and other stakeholders and partners in order to find more sustainable interventions and support in the immediate period, short-term and long-term as may be applicable.

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