Departing Nyarugusu camp, MSF continues refugee response at nearby Nduta

After two years of providing emergency medical care to refugees from Democratic Republic of Congo and Burundi in Nyarugusu camp, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) will be closing its facilities on 31 May 2017. Following its departure, MSF will concentrate on continuing to provide healthcare services at nearby Nduta camp, where the needs are now greater.

Working in Nyarugusu since May 2015, conducting a range of initiatives including response to a cholera outbreak, mobile clinics, and outpatient nutrition programmes, MSF’s most recent activities in the camp include running a 40-bed stabilisation unit and two malaria clinics.

“While it is never an easy decision to leave healthcare services, our work in Nyarugusu was always intended to be a temporary measure to respond to the emergency medical needs of refugees,” says David Nash, Head of Mission for MSF in Tanzania. “We have invested significantly in improving the health situation in Nyarugusu over the past two years. Other organisations have also scaled up their response, meaning we are now able to hand over our facilities and materials.”

As MSF departs from Nyarugusu, it will donate some of its medical structures to the Tanzanian Red Cross which, along with other organisations, will continue to provide medical care in Nyarugusu.

“Our resources will now be focused on Nduta camp, where the refugee population has more than doubled over the last six months,” continues Nash. “The number of patients seeking care at our hospital and health posts has increased by over 100 per cent and we have seen a significant spike in disease, particularly malaria.”

Increased assistance still urgently needed for refugees in Tanzania

Despite the situation stabilising in Nyarugusu, there are 312,725 refugees now living in Nyarugusu, Nduta and Mtendili camps. As seen by MSF in Nduta, humanitarian agencies are struggling to meet the shelter, medical, food, and hygiene needs of the refugees.

“Until sufficient shelter is available via the rehousing of refugees into an additional camp, health challenges will remain high,” says Nash. “To avoid a further deterioration in conditions, we again call for a fourth camp to be established immediately.”

Additional support is also required to ensure that the Tanzanian government can continue to adhere to refugee conventions. For years, the country has hosted hundreds of thousands of refugees and, since April 2015, automatically granted refugee status to all Burundians entering Tanzania. However, the revocation in January 2017 of this approach now means that Burundian refugees must have their refugee cases determined individually, a move which affects the humanitarian assistance available to them.

“We urge all stakeholders, including the Tanzanian government and international donors, to rapidly increase their support,” says Nash. “It is crucial that humanitarian organisations take concrete action to help Tanzania provide shelter and assistance to refugees for as long as they continue to flee. Tanzania must not become home to yet another forgotten refugee crisis.”

MSF is committed to supporting the refugee population in Tanzania and remains ready to respond to emergencies in the camps and Tanzanian host communities should they arise. 

MSF in Tanzania

MSF teams arrived in Tanzania in May 2015 following a cholera outbreak amongst newly arrived Burundian refugees in the country. MSF supported the Tanzanian Ministry of Health to vaccinate the entire camp of Nyarugusu, as well as Tanzanians living in surrounding villages, successfully halting transmission of the disease.

Given the significant humanitarian needs of the expanding camp population, MSF took the decision to extend its activities, running mobile clinics and outpatient nutrition programmes, and supporting the intensive therapeutic feeding centre in the Tanzanian Red Cross hospital. In the absence of other organisations with emergency response capacity, MSF also distributed 90 million litres of water before going on to treat 18,836 people in 2015 for diseases such as malaria, diarrhoea and respiratory tract infections.

MSF continued its work into 2016 as refugee numbers increased rapidly. The organisation supported the Tanzanian Red Cross in treating malnourished children and established two mobile clinics to reduce the transmission of malaria, one of the biggest health challenges in the camp. MSF also set up a 40-bed stabilisation unit aimed at reducing death and disease in children under 10.

Between 2015 and 2017, MSF screened 77,453 people for malaria and treated 65,154 patients who tested positive; conducted 3,032 emergency consultations; administered 232,951 doses of cholera vaccinations; and carried out 29,613 psychological support and 83,555 health promotion sessions. MSF also conducted 83,288 outpatient consultations, mainly for malaria, diarrhoea and respiratory tract infections, as well as providing treatment to 1,620 malnourished people. As part of water and sanitation activities, teams distributed 65,000 mosquito nets and 139.7 million litres of water.

In nearby Nduta, MSF is the major medical provider, running a 175-bed hospital, six health posts, and provides mental health support.