High population density in the refugee camps makes the spread of meningitis more likely

The international medical aid organization Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) is launching a meningitis vaccination campaign in eastern Chad, following a recent outbreak among refugees from Sudan's Darfur region. The campaign is aimed at protecting thousands of people in the area from the highly infectious disease, which is particularly threatening in the overcrowded camps.

MSF is working alongside local health authorities and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. Over a period of two weeks, MSF is planning to vaccinate about 70,000 Sudanese refugees and local residents in Bredjing and Farchana camps, their respective surrounding areas and the border town of Adré.

"This is a deadly disease which, without treatment, kills between 50 to 80 percent of those who contract it," explains Paul van Haperen, MSF head of mission in Chad. "High population density in the refugee camps makes the spread of meningitis more likely."

The first cases of meningitis were discovered in Bredjing and Treguine refugee camps at the beginning of January. More than a year after people fled the war-torn region of Darfur, living conditions in these camps are still difficult. "The Chadian health authorities asked us to help respond to the situation," continues van Haperen. "So MSF has mobilized its vaccination teams as quickly as possible."

In addition to a number of fixed vaccination sites in the refugee camps and three sites in Adré town, mobile teams will cover the outlying areas. MSF is also improving the surveillance system in the district and treating patients who have contracted the disease with antibiotics.

Meningitis is an infection of the meninges membrane that covers the brain and spinal cord like a sheath. The current outbreak is caused by the relatively rare "W135" strain of the meningococcus bacterium.

Chad is within what is called the meningitis belt, spanning sub-Saharan Africa, where epidemics occur regularly and affect many thousands of people. In Chad alone, outbreaks have occurred in 1998, 2000 and 2001.

Médecins Sans Frontières has been working along Chad's eastern border since September 2003 and is providing medical and surgical relief, nutritional support as well as water and sanitation facilities to 85,000 Sudanese refugees.




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