July 28, 2011 / 7:18 PM / 9 years ago

MSF expects Somali refugee malnutrition rates to rise

* Cases of severe malnourishment on the rise

* Aid groups battling to provide food, water to refugees

DADAAB, Kenya, July 28 (Reuters) - - Medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) said on Thursday it expected no let up in the number of cases of severe malnutrition among Somali refugee children escaping drought until the onset of rains expected in November.

Even then, poor sanitary conditions in Kenya’s Dadaab refugee camp, the world’s biggest where some 1,300 people are flocking to each day, risk exacerbating the crisis.

“In the next few months, up to November at least, if not more, we expect more and more patients to come,” Mohamed Gedi, director of MSF’s hospital in Dadaab’s Dagahaley settlement, told Reuters at the clinic.

In December MSF was reporting 20 new cases of severe malnourishment per week. That figure started rising early this year, hitting 50 new cases a week in June. The hospital has more than quadrupled its bed capacity to cope.

In one of the clinic’s two permanent wards given over to saving the lives of starving children, Fatima Mohamed depressed a syringe holding a dose of therapeutic milk, pushing the liquid down a nasal tube attached to her 22-month old daughter.

On the surrounding beds, emaciated children lay listless, their protruding ribs seemingly threatening to perforate their fragile skin, their hollow eyes following figures around the room.

The refugees, many of whom travel hundreds of kilometres, often by foot, are fleeing a drought that has struck the Horn of Africa in the past few months. The United Nations has declared two parts of southern Somalia famine zones.

Built to house 90,000 people when civil war broke out in Somalia, Dadaab is now home to more than 400,000 refugees — making it the world’s largest refugee camp.

The near-overwhelming numbers are placing a strain on aid agencies battling to provide adequate supplies of clean drinking water and food.

The emergence of malnutrition among children aged over five, often due to deteriorating sanitary conditions, underscored the strain the camp was under, MSF said.

Back in the ward, a toddler’s feeble cry was met by a nod of satisfaction. “It’s good that he’s crying, it means he’s got strength,” said one MSF aid worker who did not want to be named. (Reporting by Richard Lough; Editing by Yara Bayoumy and Sophie Hares)

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