Somalia: An Uphill Battle Against Measles and Cholera

To the extent possible given the conditions, MSF is battling cholera and measles outbreaks in and around the town of Marere in southern Somalia

Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is currently battling outbreaks of cholera and measles in and around the town of Marere in southern Somalia. Around five thousands Somalis fleeing conflict and drought in their villages are now seeking shelter in Marere and the surrounding villages of Jilib, Keytoy, and Osman Mo. MSF is trying to counter the outbreaks but is finding that this effort is no different from its other interventions in Somalia, which is to say that security and other matters are limiting the organization’s ability to respond to the degree that is necessary.

“Since the outbreak of the measles epidemic among the displaced people, we managed to treat over 150 cases,” said Silvia Colona, MSF Project Coordinator for Marere. “Ideally we would do mass vaccination of all children in these villages. That is the only way we know to stop an epidemic among vulnerable people. Until now, this has not happened. If the authorities grant us the possibility to do mass vaccinations amongst the children in the affected locations, we can prevent an epidemic and many unnecessary deaths.”

Hundreds of thousands of Somalis have been on the move this year seeking relief from a worsening humanitarian crisis marked by war, violence, lack of development, lack of assistance, and drought. Many are malnourished and weak, and opportunistic infections—cholera and measles in particular—are rife given the lack of clean drinking water and sanitary conditions.

In addition to treating measles patients, MSF has set up a cholera-treatment center in the hospital the organization has been running for eight years in Marere. MSF is opening a cholera treatment unit and a measles treatment center near the displacement camp at Jilib to respond to the increase in the number of cases. Over the past few weeks, more than 80 cases of cholera have been treated, more than enough to set alarm bells ringing. Since cholera is highly infectious, patients must be kept in isolation. MSF is also trying to prevent further infections by promoting good hygiene and chlorinating water wells.

This week, MSF also distributed relief items to the displaced people in Jilib. Blankets, buckets and cooking pots were handed out to over 1,600 households lacking the most essential items.

MSF has worked continuously in Somalia since 1991 and currently provides free medical care in eight regions. Over 1,400 Somali staff, supported by approximately 100 staff in Nairobi, provide free primary healthcare, surgery, treatment for malnutrition, as well as support to displaced people through health care, water supply and relief items distributions in nine locations in South- and Central-Somalia. MSF is also providing medical care to Somali refugees in Kenya and Ethiopia.
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