As temperatures rise in Uzbekistan, UNICEF and partners step up health measures for refugees
By Nigina Baykabulova
PAKHTAABAD, Uzbekistan, 23 June 2010 – Temur, 1, is crying. Medications have not helped to bring down his high fever.
The little boy is suffering from overheating.
“I am so sorry for my grandson,” says Salomatoy-opa, who also cannot hold back the tears. “He is so young, but already exposed to many health risks.”
Two paediatricians are trying to calm Salomatoy-opa. “The child feels your anxiety,” they tell her.
The refugee camp, where Salomatoy-opa and her grandson are staying opened only few days ago. It houses close to 5,000 ethnic Uzbek refugees who have been forced by conflict from Kyrgyzstan. Salomatoy-opa’s family spent four days in the basement of their house before they were able to escape across the border.
Their temporary home has shelter, water, sanitation, health services and even a barber’s stall. But shaded area is scarce. As the days get hotter, staying in tents during the daylight hours is increasingly difficult – especially for children.
“Children are more sensitive to the heat than adults,” says Dr. Dilorom Mamadalieva, one of the 33 medical workers at the camp. “Prolonged heat causes fever, dehydration and may lead to diarrhoea if not addressed quickly.”
Safe water and hygiene
The United Nations estimates there are about 35,000 refugees who have returned home in the past few days, but tens of thousands still remain in Uzbekistan. Their needs are immense, especially as the temperature continues to rise.
“A cooler place for mothers with young children would reduce their further exposure to the heat,” says Dr. Mamadalieva. “We are looking into that option.”
Availability of safe drinking water is another issue that has a direct impact on children’s health. For daily chores like washing or bathing, refugee families use running water from the tap. They have bottled water for drinking, but this is solution is costly and difficult to sustainable.
Dozens of public shower cabins and latrines were constructed very quickly along one side of the camp. Families with small children received potties. But the administration is under pressure to create more and better-designed sanitation facilities. So far they have provided families with soap and other personal hygiene items. But government resources are already overstretched, and external support is vital for interrupted supply of relief items.
Immunization and information
To prevent infectious diseases and promote good hygiene, the medical team distributed leaflets – containing simple tips like handwashing – throughout the camp.
Dr. Mamadalieva says that marking a finger of the immunised child, an entirely new technique for the country, has proved very useful. Among the camp’s children, it is now easy to spot a child who has not received the vaccine.
With UNICEF’s support, the Uzbek Government is also planning to vaccinate refugee children against measles and distribute vitamin A supplements.