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Mobile medical camps treat children and families displaced by floods in Bihar

UNICEF Image: India, flood
© UNICEF India/2007
Flood survivors line up for treatment at a medical camp in Bihar state, India, where more than 300 UNICEF-supported health teams are working.

By Anupam Srivastava

BIHAR, India, 16 August 2007 – At a UNICEF medical camp, Kusum, 4, has been vaccinated against measles as a part of the effort to save lives after the recent monsoon floods here.

Kusum and her family are living on a raised, 4 km stretch of embankment along with 200 other families who managed to escape when their villages were submerged in the floodwaters two weeks ago. Her family now occupies an eight-by-twelve-foot space.

Fleeing the floods and living outdoors made Kusum sick, but she was unable to receive medical attention. Kusum's father was also ill, and the nearest available health facilities were around 10 km away – a journey he felt he could not make under these difficult circumstances.

Many of the children treated at the camp had been ill for several days without getting any medical care.

Eight districts hit hardest

The Department of Disaster Management of the Government of Bihar reports that in 19 districts, 12.3 million people – including 1.5 million children under the age of five – have been badly affected by the recent flooding. A large number of them have been displaced.

The worst-affected eight districts are Muzaffarpur, Sitamarhi, East Champaran, Madhubani, Darbhanga, Samastipur, Sheohar and Khagaria. More than 6,000 villages have been inundated in these districts and 140 lives have been lost.

UNICEF Image: India, flood
© UNICEF India/2007
A girl is vaccinated against measles at a medical relief camp in the flood-affected Muzaffarpur District of Bihar.

“In an emergency such as the floods, children are the most vulnerable,” said UNICEF Bihar Officer-in-Charge Job Zachariah. “Most children cannot swim to safety. Moreover, they easily fall prey to diseases.”

Illness strikes the vulnerable living on the embankments quite easily. They are exposed to the elements and to diseases that are borne along the receding floodwaters.

Relief on several fronts

At a medical camp organized by UNICEF, Kusum has received treatment as well as immunizations and vitamin A supplements. Vitamin A is crucial to build up her immune system, a needed precaution in her precarious living situation.

As news of the medical camp spread, greater numbers of people poured in. “There is hardly a family without someone sick,” said one mother as she rushed to get her son vaccinated. In this camp serving the displaced people of five villages, 174 children have been vaccinated, and 1,300 people received treatment in a single day.

In nine of the worst-affected districts of Bihar, more than 200 mobile medical teams and 100 static teams have been put in place to attend to needs such as Kusum’s.

UNICEF is also assisting the people of Bihar on several other fronts, including the provision of water-purification tablets, fortified biscuits for the most vulnerable children and health surveillance to assess and monitor the danger of possible disease outbreaks.

As families leave the medical camps, they have to prepare for yet another day without a home. But with the treatment they have received, their children’s chances of remaining in good health are much greater.




15 August 2007:
UNICEF correspondent Amy Bennett reports on the medical camps being set up to help people displaced by monsoon floods in India’s Bihar state.
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