Health workers have completed a 12-day drive to vaccinate 72,000 people against meningitis following an outbreak of the highly contagious disease in three overcrowded refugee camps in eastern Chad, the UN World Health Organisation (WHO) said on Tuesday.
“We have completed the vaccination of nearly 72,000 people in the Treguine, Bredjing, Farchana camps and the population within a five km radius of the camps, which represents a 89 percent coverage rate,” Doctor Camilo Kuan, the head of WHO emergency operations in eastern Chad, told IRIN by telephone.
Treguine, Bredjing and Farchana are located near the border town of Adre. Together, they host a third of the 213,000 refugees from Sudan's troubled Darfur region who have sought sanctuary on Chadian soil.
Kuan said 19 suspected cases of meningitis had been reported in the three camps during January, of which six had been confirmed. Only one person had died from the disease, which causes an inflamation of the brain, he added.
The vaccination drive began on 26 January and was conducted by Medecins sans Fontieres (MSF) France, MSF Holland and the International Federation of the Red Cross.
Meningitis is caused by viruses and bacteria that are often found in airborne dust. The disease is prevalent in West Africa during the dry season which runs from October through to May, but the high concentration of people in the overcrowded refugee camps and water shortages in the arid waste of eastern Chad made for a particularly dangerous situation.
A major meningitis outbreak occurred in Chad in 1998. Several hundred people died of the disease on that occasion. Further outbreaks occurred in 2000 and 2001.
Officials from the UN refugee agency UNHCR said the number of Sudanese refugees registered in Chad had increased steadily to 213,000 in recent weeks.
This was mainly due to displaced Sudanese moving from towns and villages in eastern Chad into the 11 official refugee camps because their food supply from the local community was drying up, the officials told IRIN.
There was only a small trickle of new arrivals from Darfur itself, they added.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions