Niger: EMUSA, a team dedicated to emergency response

Epidemic outbreaks, population displacements and floods are just some of the situations to which EMUSA (MSF’s rapid emergency response team in Niger and Mali) has responded during the 15 months Adolphe Masudi has worked as EMUSA coordinator. Here, Adolphe tells us about his experience.

What was the first emergency you had to face with EMUSA?

I arrived in Niger in June 2015 and the first emergency response that I coordinated was a distribution of relief items for Nigerian refugees in the Diffa region, in the southeast of the country, who were fleeing the violence associated with Boko Haram. In fact, during the last six months of 2015, the team was mainly focused on supporting MSF’s activities in this region; there were many attacks along the border between Niger and Nigeria during those months, causing thousands of people to become displaced. 

What emergencies did the team deal with during 2016?

First, in January 2016 we responded to a meningitis outbreak in Tahoua; we supported the Ministry of Health in treating more than 130 cases and vaccinating around 70,000 people in two areas of the region. We then moved to Diffa to carry out a preventive vaccination campaign against cholera, also in coordination with the Ministry of Health. This campaign was necessary given the high risk of contracting the disease (especially near Lake Chad), the insecurity that could result in a lack of access at any moment, and the high number of displaced people. Over 84,000 people were vaccinated against cholera in the displaced persons camp in Yebi, in the towns of Bosso and Toumour (Bosso district) and in the Bilabrim area (in Nguigmi).

Furthermore, during the cholera campaign we received another alert: there was a measles outbreak in the Yebi camp. Jointly with the Ministry of Health, we started vaccinating the people there but, unfortunately, they were forced to flee in early June due to a Boko Haram attack. They then settled in two camps near the main road that crosses the region in Kintchandi and Wari Gazan. As a result, we redirected our response towards these new sites, and were finally able to vaccinate 24,000 children between the ages of 6 months and 15 years. EMUSA focused on meeting the most immediate needs of these displaced people – for example, by distributing water and setting up mobile clinics.

And finally, we assisted victims of the severe floods that affected around 10,000 people in Abalack, Tahoua. We distributed more than 500 relief kits and set up mobile clinics in the five most affected neighbourhoods, in the schools where people had settled. We also provided psychological assistance and held sessions to raise awareness about hygiene measures and epidemiological surveillance.

How does EMUSA work?

The team has various professionals – nurses, experts in logistics, health promotion, etc – based in Niger and Mali. In total, there are 19 of us in the team.

Our job is to monitor the humanitarian and epidemiological situation in the two countries, to be able to detect alerts. When we receive an alert, we need to investigate – call our contacts, get information and visit the area – and, depending on the results, we assess if it’s appropriate or not to intervene. During my time as head of EMUSA, we didn’t respond to any emergencies in Mali, but we monitored the situation there and mobilised members of the team based in Mali to respond to the emergencies in Niger.

Also, my assistant and I spent two months working in Jakusko, in Yobe state in northern Nigeria, where there was a malnutrition and malaria emergency. Most of the children with severe acute malnutrition received outpatient treatment, but those with severe medical complications were admitted to Jakusko hospital’s intensive nutritional centre. We also vaccinated more than 140,000 children between the ages of 6 months and 15 years against measles.

What has been the hardest part of this mission?

The hardest thing is the mobility. One week you're in one place, and the week after you’re somewhere else. When you still haven’t finished one intervention, you’ve already received another alert. Sometimes, for example, we had to split the team in two and follow several emergencies at the same time, making it difficult to monitor and support all the team members.

Nonetheless, the experience has been a positive one. Emergency response is the essence of MSF, and we need to continue carrying out these interventions. Teams like EMUSA allow us to be more efficient in responding to emergencies in a country or geographical area, and this is our primary responsibility as MSF.