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Uganda struggles amid new Congolese refugee influx – After Conflict, Cholera

Uganda HIV_Aids Group 049

Kampala 15 March 2018

As Congolese fleeing attacks in the northeastern Ituri province continue to stream into neighbouring Uganda, an outbreak of cholera with a worryingly high mortality rate is hampering efforts to respond to the sudden influx.

A lack of adequate funds is frustrating the response not only to the disease outbreak, but also to the wider needs of the new arrivals.

Since the exodus began in January, some 48,000 Congolese, mostly from the Hema and Bagagere communities, have arrived in Uganda by crossing Lake Albert. In Ituri, dozens of people have been killed, thousands of houses burned and more than 100,000 people displaced.

As of March 6, some 1,466 suspected cases of cholera had been recorded among the refugees, according to the Ugandan government, which said 32 people had died of the highly infectious disease.

That’s a mortality rate of 2.2 percent. While that’s a significant decline from the four percent recorded a fortnight ago, when treated early and correctly, cholera tends to kill less than one percent of those infected.

“We are not doing enough to respond first,” David Alula, of Medical Teams International, an NGO, told IRIN at a 50-bed cholera treatment centre in Sebarogo, a fishing village on the Ugandan shore of Lake Albert. “More attention needs to be paid to address the situation.”

Those fleeing the Democratic Republic of Congo arrive in Sebarogo and other coastal villages, where they are screened. Many are already infected with the Vibrio cholerae bacterium that causes cholera.

Sometimes it takes several days before refugees are transferred to the town of Kagoma, where they are registered and then transported to refugee “settlements.”

One such settlement, Kyangwali, is home to 45,000 refugees, and has registered hundreds of cases of cholera.

The Ugandan official in charge of Kyangwali, Jolly Kebirungi, told IRIN the outbreak had caught people off-guard.

“We had not planned for this kind of sickness all along. Everything is being doubled on the ground, and more efforts are [being] put in place to make sure it’s contained,” she said, citing as current priorities water treatment, staff recruitment, mass mobilization, and investigations into what caused the outbreak.

“It’s something which is overstretching our resources but which we must handle to make sure we save the lives of these people,” she added.

Kebirungi added that international support was needed to manage the caseload and to ensure adequate medication and staff.

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