Displaced populations still on the move in Kenya

In this interview, Juliette Thaury, a doctor and field officer in Kericho, provides an update on the MSF's mobile team's activities at seven sites in the region.

The emergency team that you are part of was sent to the Kericho region, located in western Kenya. What prompted this intervention?

Juliette Thaury: We arrived in Kericho on January 8. At that point, the town was fairly calm but displaced persons' camps had been set up in late December, after the results of the presidential election in the Kericho region were announced, provoking an initial wave of violence.

"We conducted an evaluation of health facilities and delivered a donation of medicines and medical supplies to the Kericho hospital. We also began providing medical and logistical aid at several sites. The displaced persons who fled reassembled at various locations, including near police stations and in schools.

"During the wave of inter-community violence, people went to the locations where they felt safe. In Londiani, the settlement site was around a church, where some Irish priests are based. Kamwangi 2 is next to a military camp. In Kericho, the sites are in the park next to the church and next to a police station."

Has the number of displaced persons in these camps stabilized?

JT: "Since our mobile team began working, we've seen the situation fluctuate dramatically. Tensions rose sharply after mid-January and then eased.

Young men armed with machetes carried out several attacks against the hillside villages. Inter-community violence broke out in Montaragon, located two hours by car from Kericho, during the night of January 19. People were killed and injured and more than 300 houses were burned.

"The police intervened by shooting into the air but the attacks continued for nearly a week. As a result, the population of the camp located near the school, which had increased sharply, dropped. Many of the displaced persons felt threatened and left to return to their regions.

"However, the numbers declined only slightly at several other sites. Fewer people left because they felt safer. There are around 500 people at Kipkelion now; between 500 and 600 at Monastry; and 2,500 to 3,000 at Londiani. In Kericho, where there are still 2,500 and 3,000 displaced persons, the site was overflowing following the January 31 murder of an opposition deputy from that town.

"But although the situation has since calmed down, the displaced persons do not want to stay there. They would rather leave and return to their home region."

Given the changing nature of the situation, what is MSF doing?

JT: "It is hard for us to predict what we will be doing more than two days in advance because the situation is so unstable. Our mobile team visits each of the seven sites regularly, based on needs. However, priorities can change when violence erupts. The medical team provides examinations and sees patients with respiratory illnesses and diarrhea, but there are not many serious cases.

"As the camps were organized, we launched a measles and polio vaccination campaign for children under 5. We vaccinated a total of 1,200 children at the seven sites.

"We are also keeping an eye on malnutrition. For now, we haven't seen anything worrisome, but childhood malnutrition could become an issue if the conflict persists.

"The team's logisticians have set up drinking water supplies, installing tap stands and reservoirs at several sites. They've brought two trucks to Kamwangi 2, providing up to 15,000 liters a day. They also built showers and latrines and provided blankets and plastic sheeting.

"Finally, a team composed of a surgeon, anesthetist and operating room nurse has just been sent to Kericho to work at the district hospital."