Help and healthcare for refugees

Help and healthcare for refugees

Winfred Wanjiku works as a nurse in the transition centre at Kakuma Refugee Camp, where refugees are given medical attention, food and hope by the centre's caring staff.

Every day 20-30 people from the southeastern part of South Sudan cross the border to Kenya and are received in a transition centre for refugees in the small town of Nadapal, before being sent on to Kakuma Refugee Camp 75 miles further south.

Story and Photos by Thorkild Jørgensen.

This is only a fraction of the numbers that crossed the borders two years ago when clashes between the government and opposition armies in July 2016 made South Sudan hell on earth once again and 250 people fled to Kakuma every day.

'We receive a lot of pregnant women who have waited as long as possible before crossing the border.' Winfred Wanjiku

The UNHCR refugee camp was established in 1969. The population of Kakuma town was 60,000 in 2014, having grown from around 8,000 in 1990. Today the camp gives refuge to 148,000 people of which 79,000 are from South Sudan and 35,000 from Somalia (UNHCR Kakuma Camp Population Statistics as of 15 February 2018).

'These days people cross the border, not because of insecurity, but out of hunger and a desire to get an education in a refugee camp,' Winfred Wanjiku tells us. 'Medical services are also a major reason for them to seek refuge in Kenya.'

Vaccination, immunization, stabilization

Winfred works as a nurse for WHO at the transition centre where the refugees are given medical attention, vaccinations against yellow fever, measles and polio and also immunization through an immune system booster and vitamin A. If screened positive the refugees are treated for hepatitis A & B, tuberculosis, leishmaniasis (disease transmitted by the bite of sandflies affecting either the skin or the internal organs). 

Especially children are given nutrition assessments and any malnourished child is given RUTF (Ready-to-Use Therapeutic Food) consisting of a high energy mix of peanut butter, milk and vitamins and then sent to the stabilisation centre at Kakuma General Hospital. 

Severe cases of malnourishment are brought to the Lopiding Hospital in Lokichogio which is 28 km’s drive on the road to Kakuma. The refugees are also screened for especially dangerous pathogenic diseases like cholera, haemorrhagic fevers and malaria which is their biggest burden of disease. Then they are either treated or referred to the hospital in Kakuma for further management and follow up.

Depending on MAF

We met Winfred early in the morning one Monday as she boarded the MAF Caravan at Wilson Airport in Nairobi where MAF has its Kenyan base.

'I’m really happy to be able to fly with MAF, because if I miss their shuttle to Lokichoggio the only other option is to use a commercial flight to Lodwar. They only go in the afternoon so I have to stay overnight in Lodwar, and then it is a three-hour drive northwest to Kakuma and another 2.5 hours to Lokichogio.'

After arriving in Lokichoggio around noon Winfred went by car to the transition centre.

'I’m really happy to be able to fly with MAF'Winfred Wanjiku

Delivering and counselling

'I am there a month at a time and then I swap with my WHO colleague at Lopiding Hospital, so that we each spend a month each place until we go on a week’s leave every three months,' Winfred explains. 'Many babies are delivered at the hospital, because we receive a lot of pregnant women who have waited as long as possible before crossing the border. Moreover, we offer psychological counselling to traumatic refugees.'

The International Refugee Council (IRC) also has a nurse in Nadapal, whereas the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) has 11 staff members of the Turkana people. Most of the refugees from South Sudan are Taposa or a neighbouring people group who speak a similar language to Turkana, which makes LWF’s logistical work more practical. LWF registers all of the refugees, hands out mosquito nets, cooking utensils, sanitary towels, soap, blankets and mats, and appoints them to a place to stay until the UN transports them to Kakuma. Three times a week, convoys bring the refugees to Kakuma Refugee Camp.

'These days people cross the border, not because of insecurity, but out of hunger and a desire to get an education in a refugee camp.' Winfred Wanjiku