MSF Camp in Kukes - three days running

The MSF Camp in Kukes

Date: April 22, 1999

The "MSF Camp" has been up and running for three days now. It has been designed as a transit camp where the most vulnerable refugees - families with elderly members or small children and those with illnesses that need constant care - can rest before moving to safer locations in the southern parts of Albania.

The camp now has 155 tents with approximately 2,200 inhabitants. Most of the residents of the MSF camp come from Metrovica, a city of 130,000 in northwestern Kosovo that has been virtually cleared of ethnic Albanians. Many arrived three or four days ago, some in cars or on tractors, others by foot. The tents are spaced so that refugees can park their tractors or cars between the tents and many new arrivals have begun to do so.

The weather has not helped the refugee situation. It has been unseasonably cold and rainy for days. The camp is situated in a farm field on the outskirts of town and the weather has turned the field into a sea of mud. MSF has distributed blankets for each refugee family and plastic sheeting for tent flooring and mattresses for the elderly and those with small children.

A large water bladder is in place and there are 12 taps where camp inhabitants can get fresh water for drinking and washing. A wooden platform with water taps is being constructed so that people can do their washing out of the mud. 40 latrines have been built at three points in the camp and more are planned.

The MSF dispensary in the camp is fully functional. Staffed by an MSF doctor and nurse and two Kosovar nurses, the dispensary has been providing about 70 to 80 consultations a day. The majority of cases are not serious - leg pains, respiratory infections, common colds, and general exhaustion. Most just want someone to talk to and a hand to hold for a moment or two. There have been a number of emergencies, however.

On Tuesday, a frantic man came to the dispensary asking for help. His wife had passed out in a nearby house where a family of 19 Kosovar refugees are staying. Nurse Loris Defilippi (Italy) grabbed his kit and rushed to the house to find a young woman,22, writhing on a bed in a fit of hysteria. As the frightened family watched, Loris administered a mild sedative and assured the family that she would be fine. He explained the symptoms of depression and told them that the MSF mental health expert, Dr. Christina Moore, from the USA, would visit the next day.

On Wednesday, Christina made a trip to visit the woman and spoke with her. Her husband is in Germany, working, but she has no news of him. Christine has arranged to see her again and has enrolled her in the peer counseling program that will begin in the MSF camp this weekend.

On Tuesday afternoon another housecall was requested. Members of a family from the village of Pirane near Prizren, who are staying in a host family near the MSF camp, needed medical attention. Back in Kosovo the four were visiting a relative's home when it was hit by Serb shelling. The grandmother was killed and five family members were wounded, including two young daughters, Florinda (3) and Vlora (5), one of whom lost part of her nose and cheek in the attack and the other who had been wounded on the arm and leg. They had come out from Kosovo in a truck two weeks ago and had only received basic medical treatment at the border. MSF brought the family to the camp, cleaned and dressed the wounds of the little girls and their mother and gave them antibiotics to stave off any infection. 

Last night, Nurse Loris Defilippi was called to a tent where a woman was suffering from severe anemia. After determining that her blood pressure was seriously low, Loris arranged immediate transport to the Kukes Hospital for treatment. The woman was admitted and when released, she will return to the MSF Camp where a new hospitalization unit with 6 beds is being erected to care for patients who need 24-hour observation. The Kukes Hospital no longer has space for non-emergency patients. MSF is prepared to increase capacity in the field hospitalization unit as the need for more beds increases.