Increased aid and vaccinations needed for refugees in Kenya's Dadaab camp

MSF calls for measles and cholera vaccinations to prevent a wider emergency.

MSF hospital in Dagahaley, Dadaab regugee complex

Kenya 2021 © Charlie Kimilu/MSF

MSF teams have recorded three measles cases and two suspected cholera cases in Dagahaley camp

NEW YORK, OCTOBER 24, 2022—With hundreds of people from Somalia arriving each week in Kenya’s Dadaab refugee camps, living conditions for the more than 233,000 refugees in the overcrowded camps are worsening and there is a high risk of disease outbreaks like measles and cholera. The UN Refugee Agency and Kenyan authorities must ramp up humanitarian support and urgently launch vaccination campaigns, said Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) as UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi visits the Dadaab camps today.

Somalis are fleeing their homes because of a crippling drought, violence, and continuing conflict in the country. Many of the new arrivals are coming from southern Somalia, where there have been recent outbreaks of measles and cholera.

“With low vaccination coverage in Somalia and no system in place to receive and screen newly arrived people in Kenya, infectious diseases can spread rapidly, putting people living in and around the camps—particularly children—at heightened risk of getting ill,” said Adrian Guadarrama, MSF’s deputy program manager for Kenya. “Even a few isolated cases of measles and cholera can cause a full-blown outbreak in overcrowded camp settings where clean drinking water is scarce and sanitation and hygiene are poor.”

Last week, MSF teams recorded three measles cases and two suspected cases of cholera in Dagahaley—one of the three refugee camps that make up the Dadaab refugee complex. Previous measles vaccinations in the Dadaab camps will provide some protection to children, but measles can still prove life-threatening for new arrivals who are unlikely to have been vaccinated. Enhancing cholera prevention measures, including cholera vaccination, is even more critical as Kenya has reported ongoing outbreaks in six counties.

“A targeted measles and mass cholera vaccination campaign in Dadaab camps and the surrounding communities is now required to prevent large-scale outbreaks and save lives,” Guadarrama said. “We are ready to support with launching the much-needed vaccinations in Dagahaley camp, where we are the main health care provider.”

MSF health promotion teams are actively seeking out new arrivals in Dagahaley to provide medical screening for illnesses and facilitate referrals for those in urgent need of medical care. However, the lack of a reception system to identify and welcome the new arrivals makes this a very difficult task and further delays their access to humanitarian assistance.

According to data collected by MSF outreach teams, the number of new arrivals from Somalia to Dagahaley alone has doubled from August to September, reaching more than 800 people. This number is estimated to keep increasing steadily in the coming weeks and months. Many of the new arrivals say they need shelter, food, safe drinking water, and latrines.

Refugees already living in Dagahaley have been generously hosting many of the newly arrived people and sharing their limited resources with them. But relying solely on hospitality is not a sustainable solution. Moreover, those with weak social connections in the camps have little choice but to live on the fringes, have limited access to food, and are vulnerable to harassment and assault.

“The humanitarian situation in the camps and surrounding communities hasn’t yet reached the breaking point, so we still have a window of opportunity to step up preventive action and avoid an emergency unfolding on top of what is already a long-running crisis,” Guadarrama said. “UNHCR, donors, and the government of Kenya must all show a sense of urgency now and set up a dignified reception and screening system for people crossing over to Kenya. Without screening new arrivals, vaccinations alone will have little impact.”

Humanitarian assistance also needs to be scaled up to address the needs of new arrivals, long-time refugees, and host communities, who have also been suffering due to the drought. At the same time, the need to find durable solutions for refugees should not be forgotten as preparedness and emergency response measures are put in place.

“Many of those arriving in the camps have undergone traumatic journeys,” Guadarrama said. “Some may even have lost family members on the way, and others may have been victims of violence. It is vital we do not overlook the stress, suffering, and psychological trauma many have experienced. We must strive to integrate mental health services in the response.”

Dadaab currently hosts more than 233,000 registered refugees, many of whom have been living in the camp complex for over three decades. The vast majority of refugees—some 96 percent—come from Somalia. MSF has been delivering health care in and around Dadaab for most of the camp’s 30-year existence. MSF's current programs are focused in Dagahaley camp, where teams provide comprehensive health care to refugees and host communities, including basic and specialized care through two health posts and a 92-bed hospital. MSF provides sexual and reproductive health care, including emergency obstetric surgeries, medical and psychological assistance to survivors of sexual- and gender-based violence, mental health, home-based insulin care for diabetics, and palliative care.