At least two people are said to have died as a result of a Cholera outbreak at the Buduburam Refugee Camp, which hosts about 42,000 Liberians at Gomoa, Central Region in Ghana.
Our Ghana correspondents have quoted the Coordinator of the Health and Water at the Sanitation Department of the Liberian Refugee Welfare Council (LRWC), Andrew Nagbe as saying that the outbreak was the result of over crowdedness on the 141-acre of land allocated for the refugees.
"It is true that there is an outbreak of cholera at the Buduburam Camp and has claimed two lives so far," said Nagbe, adding, "Refugees bath, toilet in plastic bags and dispose them in nearby drainages thus causing the environment to be polluted."
The LRWC Coordinator told The Analyst that the refugees "go to the extent of keeping feces indoors for days and later throw them at night on the roof of other houses; and when rain falls, residents fetch these rain water for drinking, washing, and other domestic use thus causing some health hazards." According to him, there was no congestion problem at the camp because the initial number of refugees hosted there was small, but he said the influx of Liberians into the camp swelled the number of refugees thereby causing the problem of over crowdedness.
He said that health workers at the Saint Gregory Catholic Clinic at the Buduburam Camp told him that the two deaths were caused by high diarrhea leading to dehydration, but that the results from Korle-Bu Teaching Hospital in Accra are yet unknown.
Mr. Nagbe further noted that the time lapse in dislodging public latrines in the camp was one of the major problems. Dislodgement of feces is done every month to avoid overflow of feces.
"But with the increase in population at the camp, we realize that the toilets get full quicker. We have recommended that dislodgement be done much earlier," Nagbe indicated, saying, "We are also trying to advise, educate and sensitize residents about the dangers of the disease but it is yielding little or no results."
He also observed that the water brought in the camp in tankers for sale should be boiled before drinking, indicating that some of the tanker drivers store their water in rusty tanks which causes health problems for the refugees.
The Sanitation Department at Liberian Refugee Welfare Council has organized general clean-up campaign in each zone to prevent the spread of the disease, and Mr. Nagbe has cautioned residents of the camp to be careful about the food they buy in the open air.
He said it is advisable that residents wash their hands after using the public latrines because as he put it, it is hygienic to do so.
When contacted, the Senior Medical Officer at Saint Gregory Catholic Clinic, Ismael McGill denied knowledge of any cholera outbreak at Buduburam Refugee Camp.
He said that cholera is a "pure white rice color stool whilst diarrhea is usually different in color," saying that cholera is greenish, yellowish and mix-bloody stool.
"All specimens collected are sent to the Korle-Bu Teaching Hospital but no case of cholera has been reported," Mr. McGill noted.
He admitted though that there is an outbreak of cholera in some major cities like Accra, Takoradi and Kumasi, but noted, "Fortunately, for Liberians at the Buduburam Refugee Camp, there is only diarrhea which we are able to control." He further indicated that all patients sent to the clinic have shown no signs of cholera. "People should give positive hygiene measures to themselves so that when diarrhea invades the community, it will be restricted and not spread to other parts of the community," Mr. McGill added.
He stressed that refugees live within a community of para-medics who are unemployed and carry out home treatments. He advised residents to report immediately to the clinic when there is a sign of "running stomach and vomiting". He frowned on the residents saying that they take the clinic to be a "dump site".
Mr. McGill spoke of two weeks period within which the clinic was said to have treated between 20 and 30 cases of diarrhea. He disclosed that the clinic received three to four cases daily with two deaths reported.
"Drainages are not properly taken care of and where there is over population, there will be health risks," Mr. McGill reiterated.
When our correspondents visited the children's ward at the Saint Gregory Catholic Clinic, there were five affected children between the ages of 3 and 7 months.
Linda Beatrice, a 35-year-old mother of one of the affected children told our correspondents, "My child has been feeling weak, stomach running and vomiting for the past four days".
She said that upon arrival at the clinic, her child was given some Oral Re-hydrated Salt (ORS) and drips but the child's condition remained unchanged.
Poor sanitation remains a serious threat to the lives of the refugees. In fact, many feel this poor sanitary condition would give rise to an epidemic sooner.
Apart from residents defecating in the open field called "the gulf", drainages contain feces and all sorts of filth thus producing foul smell in the camp.
Residents have themselves seen the reality of cleaning the surrounding, but one of the opinion leaders on the camp Morris Sirleaf declared that "it is very difficult to maintain good sanitation on such small piece of land as the Buduburam Refugee Camp, with such huge number of people." The Public Information for the UNHCR in Ghana, Needa Jehu-Hoyah, emailed our correspondent saying "The health authorities in Buduburam are the experts.
They have nothing to gain by making false claims. If there indeed is a cholera outbreak, they would not try to cover it up and cause unnecessary health risks for the population. Sanitation experts are just that-sanitation experts." Needa believes that the "sanitation experts may know the level of filth and sanitation in the settlement." Needa's comments gave credence to the sanitation workers of the Liberia Welfare Council.