Thousands of Refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo have continued to infiltrate the country despite the already ongoing influx, and the recent cholera outbreak in refugee settlements. Uganda Red Cross society has been on ground to respond to both, the growing numbers of refugees and the continued spread of cholera especially in Kyangwali and Kyaka II refugee settlements.

Uganda Image/Robert Herriman
Image/Robert Herriman

About a month ago, the ministry of health declared a cholera outbreak in the refugee hosting districts of Hoima and Kyegegwa which left over 29 people dead and over 986 suspected cases. This however, has not deterred the crossing masses from coming into the country, fleeing conflict in the neighboring DRC Congo. This has only escalated the influx and the spread of cholera in these areas.

According Irene Nakasiita, the Coordinator PR Uganda Red Cross Society, the outbreak could have been brought about by the apparent open defecation by the children and improper use of the latrines provided, although many of the refugees are crossing with the disease to Uganda.

“The sanitation here is not the best, given the fact that the numbers are big and the latrines not sufficient enough, there is continued open defecation especially by children and this among others, and has become a major cause of cholera in this area. We are however doing our best to continuously sensitize and train the refugees on how to observe proper hygiene and sanitation at both individual and community levels.” Said Nakasiita

Since fighting broke out in DRC in December last year, over 1000 refugees cross into the country everyday through the various entry points. These include Bunagana and Nteko in Kisoro district, Butogota, Ishawa and Kyeshero in Kanungu and Sabagoro, Nsonga and Canara in Hoima district. Refugees cross into Uganda from North Kivu and Ituri province across Lake Albert.

However, due to efforts by Red Cross, government and other partners, Cholera had been contained in Kyangwali by end of February with no death cases registered for quite some time.

“There admissions are coming in but they are being contained. We are no longer threatened by the death cases. We thank Uganda Red Cross for the continued support in fighting such epidemics. They have taught the people how to maintain good hygiene and have also provided water cleaning tablets to ensure consumption of clean and safe water.” Said Jolly Kebirungi, the settlement commandant Kyangwali.

Uganda Red Cross is also underway constructing a water plant which will supply 75000 liters of water to over 5000 refugees in Maratatu village in Kyangali settlement. The water plant which taps water from River Nkusi will boost the camp’s water supply and perhaps help eradicate hygiene related diseases.

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“Water is life and no matter what assistance you give, water should be first in one’s life. So we are setting up a plant to serve this community since water is not enough.” Said Robert Kwesiga the Secretary General Uganda Red Cross.

Kyangwali Refugee settlement sits on 142 Square Miles and hosts over 67,000 refugees from Rwanda, Burundi, Somalis, South Sudan, Kenyan, and DRC where majority of the refugees come from, about 75% of these are women and children.

“The Red Cross has really helped us a lot since we came. They guide us always and sensitize us especially about our hygiene. They have done a great job” said Ngabu Mpipa, a refugee from Congo.

Kyangwali settlement and Kyaka II are the biggest hosts of Congolese refugees in Uganda today. Uganda Red Cross has volunteers at all entry points to receive these refugees and also provide first aid services when needed. The Volunteers are also seen spraying the feet of all new entrants at all receptions centers, monitoring latrine use, spraying around and all over the reception centers as well as sensitizing refugees on how to keep free from cholera.

The Uganda Red Cross teams remain on ground to extent various services which include registration, family tracing and reunification, psychosocial support, water provision, promotion of hygiene and sanitation and social mobilization in refugee hosting communities.