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Providing Health Care for Sudanese refugees in Chad
September 29, 2003
Tiné, Chad, 29 September 2003 - Continued fighting in Western Sudan's Darfur province has caused an estimated 4,000 people to flee to neighboring Chad, where most live in towns and villages along the border lacking food, clean water, shelter, and medical care.
"I am from the village of Karnoi in Sudan," said one woman who has lived at the refugee camp in Tiné, a border town in Chad's Biltine province, for two months. "Two bombs exploded very close to where I lived. They killed a lot of animals, camels and cows. I was injured along with many others and twelve people died. After the bombing we fled immediately but it took us some days to reach Tiné. Now I live here in the refugee camp with my mother and my six children. People from Tiné who saw us suffering gave us mats to sit on and clothes to wear. If one of us receives some food we share."
MSF opened a health center in late September, and built four tent clinics on the outskirts of the camp where the refugees live in cramped conditions. The mostly women and children sit and sleep under simple shelters made of old rags and some pieces of plastic that flutter in the strong desert wind. The air is hot and full of sand. Water is scarce. Many refugees who can't afford water from a nearby distribution point have to dig for it in a dry riverbed - often with their bare hands. They have no other choice than to drink the brownish, sandy liquid unfiltered.
The tents house a consultation room, pediatric unit, pharmacy, and in-patient areas for men and women, and when the medical team reaches the white consultation tents every morning at 7:30 a.m., dozens of people are already waiting.
"Poor water quality is probably why we are seeing so many patients with diarrhea," MSF nurse Fabienne Gaborieau said. "And many people suffer from respiratory infections because they have no sheets or warm clothes to protect themselves against the cold desert nights that follow the hot, windy days."
Malnutrition is yet another major concern, with most people in Tiné camp living exclusively on cooked millet. "We identified more than 20 severely malnourished children in only three days," Garborieau explained. "People here have no food reserves at all."
"We are dying of hunger," said one old woman, raising her shoulders in resignation. Like most of the refugees she lives exclusively on millet flour cooked into bread called boule in French, asida in Arabic, or go in Zaghawa dialect. It is common to serve the dish with a meat sauce, dried tomatoes and okra, but there is none of that in the camp.
Life in the camp is a daily struggle and most of the refugees would like to return to Darfur as fast as possible. But their home villages are destroyed and fighting still rages.
An MSF team has also set up a health unit in Birak, a village 200 km south of Tiné. According to MSF Emergency Coordinator Dan Sermand, "A substantial number of refugees fled to Tiné and Birak, but many others are probably along the 300 km border between the BahaÃ¯ in the north and Adré in the south. Until now MSF has not been able to reach these people."
Relief supplies consisting of measles vaccines, therapeutic milk and food, and building materials were flown into Chad last week. Pumps, pipes and tanks for providing clean water have also been sent.
Currently 8 international volunteers are working in Tiné and Birak, receiving support from a base in the provincial capital Abéché and from the MSF coordination team in the capital N'Djamena.