At the start of 2016, there were 21.3 million refugees worldwide. Many of these same refugees risk death and disease daily due to their extremely poor living conditions. While most refugees do receive short-term healthcare, it is never enough, and risk of disease and infection within refugee camps is greater than ever before. With health issues in refugee camps at an all time high, healthcare, mission teams, and other volunteer organizations need to be focusing on three things: malnutrition among children, increasing sanitation, and mental health awareness. With about half of refugees under 18, malnutrition is a serious concern within the camps, especially the less populated ones in rural parts of Africa, (Macgregor). The leader of a lesser known refugee camp in South Sudan says “the majority of the patients in our camps are malnourished children who are further weakened when they contract diarrhea, malaria, or respiratory infections.” (Perache) There are over 1,200 children diagnosed with severe acute malnutrition in this certain camp in Yida, South Sudan, (Perache). While malnutrition is a serious issue, it is just the tip of the iceberg for these kids, only leading to further and more fatal diseases. Since it is the basis of illness among refugee children, providing nutrient-rich food to children under five should be a priority among organizations providing aid to these impoverished areas.
Another area of focus in refugee camps needs to be the increase of sanitation. During the Rwandan Genocide, an estimated 60,000 refugees died because of the lack of clean water among camps due to sanitation problems, (Fajordo). With diarrheal disease the number one killer in children under five, “aide is needed especially in water and sanitation to help stop this killer disease.” (Hussein) While there is simply no way to keep the disease completely contained, an organization leader named Ahmed Hussein proposed certain ways to increase clean water and sanitation in the camps. The greatest help was increasing the number of latrines as well as changing the location of them. Instead of the traditional five families to one latrine, Hussein’s volunteer organization worked to build one latrine per family as well as move them further away from where the families access their water and food, decreasing the spread of diarrheal disease in this poverty-stricken camp in Kenya. Hussein also believes the key to sanitation is the promotion of good hygiene, so refugees are being taught healthier ways of living such as washing their hands and proper waste management.
Traumatic experiences during displacement, environment adjustment problems, crowded and challenging camp environments, and multiple family member deaths a routine reality, all come together to make mental illness the most common health condition among refugees. The main mental health concern is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD. PTSD in refugee camps can range anywhere from fifty percent to ninety percent, depending on location and severity of situations, (Birman). Common causes of mental health diseases, like PTSD, among refugees can include physical and emotional trauma, sexual assault, witnessing or being involved in acts of violence, family separation, and many others.
People with mental health issues should be treated with the same amount of care as people with physical health issues, though this is usually not the case. Just as physically impaired refugees can be put in physical first aid hospitals, mentally impaired refugees should be put in psychological first aid centers. For those who are suicidal, aiding them with mental health support could be as much of a life saver as helping their need for food or shelter. A former refugee suffering from PTSD says, “when arriving [at the camps], we are out of our minds, we have taken so much suffering,” (Barren) showing that not just a few, but almost all refugees go through difficulty on his or her journey. Barren goes on to explain how he was put in a psychological first aid center and was changed because of the help the received. He states, “before, I couldn't tell my story without crying and flashbacks, if I didn't get support, I would be a different person.” Now Barren is able to inspire others with his incredible story. These refugees deserve mental health support just as much as they receive aid for physical health concerns. Results prove this is a game-changer for many refugees.
While temporary camps will never be able to replace the lifestyle these refugees once enjoyed, there are certain measures in a few, key areas, that can be prioritized for the best results. When people groups on a mission go and serve these destitute camps, helping to solve malnutrition, fix sanitation problems, and focus on mental illness treatment can ensure a healthier lifestyle, improved community and an overall higher standard of living within the camps. Focused energy and resources on these three priority areas are vital to the survival of refugees who were forced to flee their country, and allow them to receive the aid and attention they deserve as fellow human beings.