Cholera kills two in IDP camp

A cholera outbreak in the largest camp for internally displaced persons (IDPs) in northern Uganda, has killed two people and infected 50, relief agencies said on Tuesday. However, 38 of those infected improved and were discharged from St.Mary’s Lacor missionary hospital, near Gulu town.

“The problem is indicative of the very poor conditions in Pabbo and the
other camps in northern Uganda,” Andrew Timpson, head of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) office in Gulu, 380 km north of the capital, Kampala, told IRIN. “Household latrine coverage is only 12 percent and school latrine coverage is about 50 percent. Frankly it is no surprise that we have cholera in this camp.”

Pabbo camp hosts about 67,000 IDPs of whom about 80 percent are women and children. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) in Gulu, the first reported cholera case in the camp was a 41-year old shopkeeper who died on 8 October.

“We didn’t expect it to go up so high, but then the sanitation is so bad in the camp,” Vincent Oryem, a medical doctor working for WHO in northern Uganda, told IRIN in Gulu. “Our investigations, for example, show that all household domestic water pots are faecally contaminated.”

The investigations also showed that two out 14 boreholes and all six springs in the camp had faecal contamination. “Between three to four cases are currently being reported daily,” Oryem said. “At first the cases came from one zone of the camp, but they have now spread to cover all the camp zones, the military barracks and Gulu town.”

Timpson said relief agencies had launched a coordinated response to contain the outbreak. “The health community is doing a good job, but we still need to double our efforts especially to ensure improved water and sanitation,” he said. “People in this camp are living in congested, substandard conditions.”

On Sunday, at least 20,000 IDPs in the camp were left homeless after a
rainstorm destroyed over 3,500 grass-thatched huts, blew off the roof of a school and injured several people. Relief workers in Gulu told IRIN on Wednesday that an assessment of the needs of the IDPs was being done. They hoped to deliver relief items to the affected people by the end of the week.

Located about 20 km north of Gulu, Pabbo is the oldest IDPs camp in northern Uganda. It sprang up after the northern Uganda-based insurgency against President Yoweri Museveni's newly installed National Resistance Movement (NRM) government started in 1986. At the time, many of the inhabitants of the new camp feared reprisals against the Acholis by the NRM, who had dominated past governments.

The reprisals never came. Instead, life in the camp has turned into an
avoidance of the brutality by the rebel Lord's Resistance Army (LRA). The rebels, who claim to be fighting to bring down Museveni's government and replace it with one based on the biblical Ten Commandments, have repeatedly targeted civilians living in the very region the LRA claims to be liberating. At least 1.6 million have been displaced by the conflict.

In June at least 6,000 people were again left homeless after a fire gutted parts of the sprawling camp, destroying hundreds of huts where the IDPs lived. Another fire in Pabbo earlier this year destroyed several thousand huts and highlighted the congestion in the camps.