JUBA – Doctors Without Borders has warned that thousands of South Sudanese displaced by a deadly conflict in the world's newest country are facing the risk of communicable diseases in refugee camps.
"The internally displaced people (IDPs) settlements are large and unfortunately large concentration of people is a breeding place for communicable diseases," Alexander Ventuora, the group's Emergency Coordinator in South Sudan, told Anadolu Agency in an exclusive interview on Saturday.
He cited Minkaman camp in the central Lakes State as one of the most concentrated IDP settlements, where refugees face the risk of contracting diseases.
"The population is on the move. There were originally 57000 displaced people, with 7000 from the host community, [but] recently a wave of advent was registered of 20000 people," he said.
Ventuora said that his humanitarian group has launched vaccination campaigns for the IDPs in the camp.
"In Minkaman, MSF vaccinated for measles and the first round of cholera," he said, using the French acronym for its name. "We have started the second round this week on Monday up to Sunday. We are also looking at vaccinating the people against meningitis and we shall target the age group of one to one hundred."
He, however, opined that despite the precautions, refugees still have to participate in their own personal hygiene to avoid health risks.
"Vaccination is important but a lot is in the hands of the communities and families," he said. "There is need for them to drink safe water and have good hygiene and as well cover the food they keep."
South Sudan has been shaken by violence since last December, when President Salva Kiir accused sacked vice president Riek Machar of standing behind a failed coup attempt.
The violence has already claimed more than 10,000 lives.
The U.N. estimates that some 3.7 million South Sudanese are now "severely food insecure," while more than 867,000 have been displaced by the violence.
Ventuora believes that congestion in the IDPs camps still poses a threat to South Sudanese refugees.
"There is hardship. Living conditions are difficult because a place like Minkaman is overcrowded," he said.
"MSF and Oxfam are distributing water, about 1200 cubic centiliters of clean water because it is difficult for the people to obtain clean water and as well dig pit latrines for good hygiene since they are displaced."
The humanitarian official called for the relocation of the IDPs from the camp in an attempt to avoid health risks.
"We have enlarged the hospital. There is also distribution of food taking place but the people need to be relocated," he said. "There are three relocation sites designated with provision of toilets and showers. This will probably be less challenging and the IDPs will find life a lot easier."
Ventuora warned that the IDPs problem is posing a risk to surrounding communities.
"In a way, everyone has been affected, even the host community, they have their own houses but the settlement has still affected them," he said, going on to hail the role of local residents in helping relief efforts for the IDPs.
"We have had great support from the local community, local leaders and everybody," he said. "Initially there were also other diseases like throat infections and diarrhea, but we are working. This isn't the end of everything we will continue to work for the safe hygiene of the people."
Ventuora said that the humanitarian organization has recently provided cholera vaccination for 52000 people.
"We had a large team of community health workers in six fixed sites and as well two mobile teams. They did the work well," he said.
He said that his group plans a vaccination campaign for newcomers in the IDPs settlements.
"Also the newcomers will be targeted in our next immunization. We have also started working on immunizing people against measles in Cubet, North East of Rumbek, where there is an outbreak," he said. "There we are targeting people between the age of 6-15 years."
"In addition to providing primary and secondary healthcare, MSF teams raise awareness about disease prevention among the host and refugee population and treat and provide psychological support to survivors of sexual and gender based violence," he said.
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