The latest reported cholera outbreak in Kenya’s Dadaab Refugee Camp has become a health risk of the highest order.
With over 2,786 people now affected and two deaths reported, Doctors Without Borders (MSF) warns of a looming catastrophe if more is not done to address the situation. The camp, which houses refugees from Somalia and other neighbouring countries, has seen a decrease in vital water and sanitation services that has only exacerbated the risk of disease transmission.
The UNHCR estimates that the Dadaab camp is currently home to over 300,000 refugees. In the face of such a huge refugee population, the MSF country director in Kenya, Hassan Maiyaki, explains that “the gravity of the situation demands urgent attention, particularly in the areas of water, sanitation, and hygiene.” This is the worst cholera outbreak in five years in the camp, with the risk of further epidemics highly likely.
While the Kenyan government is working to address the dire situation, more resources are needed to contain the outbreak. These efforts require collaboration from key partners in the region, including the UNHCR and its donors, in order to improve access to clean water, sanitation, and hygiene, which are essential to encourage a recovery in health services and prevent further disaster.
The most urgent needs of the refugees affected by this outbreak will also require additional support. This includes medical care and improved sanitation services in the camps, along with increased capacity to ensure that affected refugees can have access to safe, clean toilets. Improving the nutritional status of the most vulnerable refugees is also critical.
The Kenya Ministry of Health has confirmed the outbreak of cholera in the Dadaab refugee camps and is actively involved in providing vaccinations and conducting health promotion campaigns to combat the spread of disease.
The influx of refugees from drought-ridden Somalia has caused extreme overcrowding and the inability to provide resources to the necessary water, sanitation, and hygiene interventions for the camps. Despite the health promotions and vaccinations, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) medical coordinator in Kenya Nitya Udayraj said “it is just a matter of time before we see other epidemics erupt in the camps such as Hepatitis E.”
Poor sanitation and hygiene are major factors contributing to the spread of illness in Dadaab. Reports from humanitarian organisations indicate that close to half of the camp population are deprived of functional latrines while open defecation has become common in the overcrowded camps. In 2021, the refugee population in the three camps—Dagahaley, Ifo, and Hagadera—overcame 245,000 registered refugees and an additional 124,000 unregistered refugees.
In light of the cholera crisis in Dadaab, MSF is calling out for aid from donors, the international humanitarian community, and other aid agencies to swiftly respond and address the widespread needs of the refugee population. It is essential to provide resources towards water, sanitation, and hygiene interventions to sustainably prevent the continuity of the cholera outbreak and protect individuals from subsequent diseases. In addition to immediate response, active participation of the Kenyan Ministry of Health is equally essential in curbing the outbreak and managing any future public health issues in the Dadaab refugee camps.