UN health and children's agencies join forces against meningitis in Burundi

24 August 2004

Seeking to beat back an outbreak of meningitis in northern Burundi, two United Nations agencies are backing a vaccination campaign which has been extended to two areas where six people died and over a dozen others were hospitalized last week.

The World Health Organization (WHO) said it provided vaccines and logistical support as more than 251,000 people were vaccinated in the north in the past month. The UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) trained vaccinators and contributed fuel for vehicles to transport the vaccines.

Meanwhile, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said it was preparing to move the first of some 20,000 Congolese refugees living in the insecure Rugombo and Karurama transit centres in western Burundi's Cibitoke province, near the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), to a camp deeper inside Burundi.

The first group of up to 1,200 will go to an existing refugee camp at Gasorwe in northeastern Burundi which already houses 8,000 Congolese refugees.

Earlier this month, some 160 people were massacred and another 100 injured at Gatumba border transit camp. The tragedy drove home the urgency of relocation even to those refugees who had hoped to go home soon and so had been reluctant to move within Burundi. A number of them have since moved to schools in the capital, Bujumbura.

"Some remain understandably and deeply affected by the horrific ordeal and others are anxious about security at the new sites," UNHCR spokesman Ron Redmond told a news briefing in Geneva today. "Many have families in hospital and want to remain close to their loved ones."

UNHCR and its partner non-governmental organizations (NGOs) were preparing shelter, food, water, sanitation and other services in two newly allocated sites for the rest of the refugees at Gisozi in Mwaro province and Giharo in Rutana province, both in the east of Burundi.


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