• David Moore

Starving children

It is painful to see one starving child…imagine three wards of starving children. That is what we saw today at the hospital at the Dagahaley Refugee Camp. Simple cot like beds lined up in three hospital wards each with a small, frail child and a mom or dad sitting with them, touching them hoping they recover. The first ward were the most severe cases.

Children who were so malnourished they could only lay on the cot barely breathing. They were being fed with nasogastric feeding tubes. When the children improve in their nutritional status, they move to the next ward. In this ward they can drink from a cup and are fed plumpy nuts (a nutritional supplement used for severely malnourshed babies). The third ward is where the children are moved when they can sit up and eat food. In this ward moms were telling us “better” indicating the children are getting better. There are 146 of these children. There were only 5 before the recent refugees came.

There is a fourth pediatric ward where the children are malnourished and have other health problems like burns, abscesses and other medical or surgical conditions. Then there was a tent where there were children in isolation, those with measles and other highly contagious illnesses were managed from there. There was an outbreak with 30 cases of measles.

We were given great favor today as we met with a Director from the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) who spent an hour with us showing us the camp and how the people received help once they arrive. There are three refugee camps in this area with the one we visited being the largest. These camps have been here since the mid-nineties when the Somalians started to cross the border for safety. They started with 5,000 a year then 10,000 with numbers recently totaling 106,000. Since the drought in Somalia and the denying of the relief agencies to be allowed in Somalia the number of refugees dramatically increased. They have received 60,000 refugees since June 4. Presently, they are receiving 1,200 people everyday.

The refugees have walked more than 100 kilometers carrying their children. We were told they can start with a family of eight and arrive with one or two children. The children are dying on the long walk from Somalia to the camp. We went to the maternity ward and spoke with the midwife in charge. She said they are delivering 300 babies a month. Women arrive pregnant and having walked that long distance. Some women are showing up at the camp having given birth along the way. Some had not even passed the placenta. We saw families with makeshift carts being used to carry their loved ones to receive help.

When the people arrive they are given emergency food and water. We saw so many arriving here. Then they line-up to be registered and are given a wrist band. They are given shoes as many have walked barefoot. All the children are weighted and their nutritional status assessed. They are then immunized. Next the family moves to the food and non-tangible items distribution center. They receive 21-days of food, blankets, a tent and some clothes. Later they are registered to receive monthly rations of food. We walked through the stations with the UNCHR Director and tried to imagine what it must feel like to those who come here and are so desperate for help.

The UN Director explained to us how everything is coordinated. First, the Kenyan government is responsible for security. The UN only backs them. The camp is actually “run” by the Somalians themselves. They are the ones registering people and distributing the food, etc. The medical care is provided by four NGOs. The main ones are Swiss Medicine Sans Frontiers and the same organization from Spain. In the hospital we were in all the doctors were Swiss. They have hired Kenyan nurses and administrative personnel. The elderly are the responsibility of the Lutheran Federation and Save the Children, a UK NGO, is responsible for the children. Care International is responsible for the food. Water comes in everyday in UN water tanks. We were able to meet with Ann who is the UNHCR Chief Public Health Officer for the camps to ask her about needed medical supplies. We have her email and contact information so we can follow-up with her after we learn more about what can be sent. Health care is obviously a challenge as so many people are arriving not only with acute issues related to a lack of food and water, but are also suffering from exhaustion and chronic illness that have not been attended to. There is a surgical suite where they are performing surgeries such as hernia repair, cleft repair, incision and draining of abscesses and C-section deliveries. There are also the health challenges related to having so many people housed in close conditions such as the spread of TB. Of the 240 people in the hospital 104 have TB with possible 4 cases of multi – drug resistance TB. Just today some TB experts from Kenyatta hospital came to the camp to help with the patients with multi – drug resistance TB. The doctors, nurses, relief workers, UN staff, etc. we met and observed were caring and passionate. They are working in extremely difficult conditions. Many have left their countries for months at a time to help these people. And, they are saving the lives of the children. They are losing an average of 4 children a month – children who come too malnourished to save. The rest are getting better. But, no one knows where these children will grow up. Will they be able to return to their homeland or will they grow up in this refugee camp?

The bible says the children will suffer for the sins of their fathers. Today we saw the suffering of the children. You can see for yourself in the  photos the suffering on their faces…in their eyes. As the people fight the children suffer. The children need peace in their country.

Praying for peace in Somalia,

Connie Sent via Cingular Xpress Mail with Blackberry

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