More than 40 people who fled fighting in the Democratic Republic of Congo have died from cholera at a refugee camp in Uganda, the Red Cross said on Thursday.
DRC’s eastern neighbour has been coping with a surge of refugees following the resumption in December of intercommunal clashes and fighting between the military and armed groups in the northeastern Ituri province.
The Red Cross said the influx has overwhelmed hospitals and led to squalid conditions in refugee camps, fuelling the outbreak that started in mid-February.
“Inadequate hygiene conditions – including poor access to safe and clean water – resulted in a cholera outbreak that killed more than 40 people in Kyangwali and Kyaka II refugee settlements” in western Uganda, the international aid group said in a statement.
“More than 2 000 cholera cases are still being managed,” the statement added, noting that “access to clean water and proper sanitation is one of the most urgent needs for the Congolese refugees” in both camps.
The Red Cross estimates that 70 000 Congolese have arrived in Uganda since the start of the year, 80% them women and children.
Many arrived in poor health, and clinics in and around the camps are overwhelmed by patients suffering from malaria, diarrhoea and respiratory tract infections.
The Red Cross fears further outbreaks of cholera as some refugees are already sick with the disease by the time they arrive in Uganda.
The fighting in Ituri is just one of many conflicts plaguing eastern Congo.
Thousands of people have also fled violence in North Kivu province to Uganda.
Most of the Congolese refugees who arrive in Uganda do so by crossing Lake Albert, on the border between the two countries.