Health of Young Children in Kakuma Camp
Volume 1, Issue 5-6 / May-June 2009
Under Five Years Children Life in Kakuma Refugee Camp
An estimated average of 30 babies is born every week in the camp main hospital while one child is born either at home or on the way to hospital.
The life of children depends on parents understanding ability to provide care in this camp. Parents do not plan to have children and when to have them. Under normal circumstances the couples work and save enough before having the child. Mothers should be prepared and determine how the child’s life will be in the first five years after birth, community health planners say.
Here in the camp it is not the case. ‘Husbands and wives spend many hours together and they are attracted to have congenital pleasure very often resulting to pregnancies. In this situation the child who is born will have little care from the parents. Every thing depends on money.’ a 38 years old refugee mother who has six children said.
Due to diverse culture of refugees in Kakuma, family planning has been accepted at a slow rate. This becomes the duty of health planners and community health workers to ensure that children born in their first five years are healthy.
A community health worker describes their work, “Our people need to be talked to every now and then. We encourage them to breastfeed exclusively until six months. However, still they introduce animal or tinned milk at birth.’’
Most mothers in the community are not educated and they quickly understand the advises from fellow community members. In the same communities’ water, camel or sheep and goat milk even shop product like glucose are introduced at birth.
As part of nutrition awareness creation to the community, there are many signboards put alongside the camp main road educating about balancing diet and importance of breastfeeding.
However, the locally distributed food ration does not include vegetable and fruits. The signboards reads ‘Pillars of good diet’ or ‘chakula bora=mwili wenye afya-akili yenye afya-nafsi yenye afya ’meaning ‘good diet=healthy body-healthy soul-healthy intelligence’.
A refugee mother questioned the truth of the message ‘yes, we are taught to balance the diet but the diet provided to us is less balanced. Simply the providers do not want our children to be healthy and intelligent’ she said, ‘whose blame is it?’ she asked.
She pointed at the children born in the camp; many of them are eighteen years old now. Many of them are in the schools and the general performance is very poor.
Implementing agencies makes a considerable effort to prevent, maintain, rehabilitate and cure infections in this category of children. All children must be immunized against Tuberculosis, poliomyelitis, tetanus (which is given to the mother during pregnancy), diphtheria, hepatitis B, hemophilia influenza and measles at clinics.
There children rooms at clinic that speeds up the consultation and treatment when they are sick. They are given the medicines to take at home. When the sickness is severe, they get admitted in camp hospital Pediatric ward.
Malaria, pneumonia and diarrhea diseases are most common in children in the camp. Some mothers whose children were once admitted in these hospital expresses their worries.
This is the mother whose two children were admitted in 2000 and 2006 respectively’ I recognize the IRC assistance to refugees. However, my children got disability from its staffs. My two boys bear injections scars on their upper legs that I think will not disappear.’ She expressed.
She does not know which medicine was injected to her children and what can be done for her children’s scars to get healed.
Another health concern is traditional practices in the camp. It has, to great extend, been given consideration. When the children teeth start erupting they get sick very often. In some communities they believe that it is a strange disease that kills the children.
The teeth are traditionally removed leaving the child pains. Children whose ‘milk teeth’ are removed take many years to have their permanent teeth. The tools used are not sterilized and there is likelihood that they may acquire infections.
Refugee children do not face only health problem in the camp. Before the South Sudan repatriation start in 2005, children aged between 3 to 6 years old could be enrolled in the baby classes. Thought the life situation seems hopeless, this was a great opportunity to the future of these refugees.
The program was stopped in what UNHCR called ‘scaling down Sudanese education’. Non-Sudanese parents wonder if education was meant for one refugee community or refugee community as whole.
We are not here for our fault. Some of us education is cut off. Our children too are denied it. Time is running and they are growing older. This is against poverty eradication strategies. A former LWF staff who sought anonymity said. ‘These agencies are supposed to promote early child education than talking on budget and yet we don’t know how much is proposed, how much donors commit and how much is cut off.’ He added.
Children who are in the camp like any other child in the world did not choose to. They do not have citizenship, their ethnic, tribes and races are just inherited from their parents. These children have feeling and emotions like any child born in USA, EUROPE, ASIA, any other capital city of Africa.
While in the camp, they have no entertainment either from parents or agencies. In some communities Kiswahili a national language has taken the place of their mother tongue.
All the children under five years in the camp are the most vulnerable to different locally available infections. Parents have no means or good knowledge to offer a better health care for them. Their destiny is unpredictable and they learn violence daily either from peer or environment.
However, the observation made in the camp, indicate that children from two years like to attend school.
There should be special consideration from available funds to cater for children’s mental, physical and social needs.
A better care for these children is a world peaceful future.