For the past several weeks, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) teams in Ethiopia have been providing assistance to South Sudanese refugees fleeing violence and persecution in their country.
It is estimated that more than 75,000 refugees have arrived in Gambella region since mid-December, following intense fighting in South Sudan’s Upper Nile, Jonglei, and Unity states. People hailing from Akobo, Juba, Bor, Malakal, Nasir, and other locales are arriving in Ethiopia at a rate of more than 1,000 per day. Almost all are women and children, and they often arrive in poor health, some having walked for up to three weeks.
MSF has rapidly extended its assistance to the refugees in partnership with the Ethiopian Administration for Refugees & Returnees Affairs (ARRA) both at entry points into Ethiopia and in the new refugee camps. MSF has set up external consultation facilities in Tiergol, Pagak, and Letchuor, and inpatient departments in Letchuor and Itang. All told, teams are providing close to 2,000 consultations per week and have an inpatient capacity of 30 beds.
“We are in a race to provide vital health care to the refugees,” says Antoine Foucher, MSF’s head of mission in Ethiopia. “We are extremely concerned about the poor living conditions and the lack of access to clean water, sanitation, and food when the refugees first arrive in Ethiopia.”
The main pathologies MSF teams are treating are respiratory tract infections or diarrhea—conditions linked to poor living conditions. Malaria accounts for more than 50 percent of the cases, however, even before the start of the rainy season. A measles outbreak was also recently declared by the authorities, and MSF has admitted dozens of children in its hospital. Despite the fact that the authorities and humanitarian actors have accelerated the transfer of the refugees to two newly established camps, Letchure and Tirkidi, there are still critical gaps in the provision of clean water and access to sanitation.
“MSF is committed to providing medical care and assistance to the rapidly growing refugee population in Gambella,” says Foucher, “but we are extremely concerned by the refugees living conditions, especially with the rainy season so close, bringing a risk of flooding.”
MSF has worked in Ethiopia since 198, and currently runs projects in Amhara, Benishangul, Gambella, Oromia, SNNPR, and the Somali region.