American & Israeli doctors launch new humanitarian initiative in Kakuma Refugee Camp

15 May, 2018

For the first time, a delegation of US pediatricians is travelling to Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya this week with IsraAID, to take part in the Israeli humanitarian aid organization’s ongoing medical program in the camp. The mission to Kakuma is a pilot program, bringing specialized skills and knowledge to hospitals serving an estimated 300,000 people from both refugee and host communities. It is the organization’s first joint Israeli-American medical specialist mission to one of the world’s oldest and largest refugee camps. The pediatricians’ mission marks the launch of IsraAID’s new model of engagement, bringing American and Israeli professionals together to dramatically improve their combined impact in disaster zones and refugee camps in some of the 16 countries around the world where IsraAID currently operates.

They will arrive at the camp in the country’s north-west on Wednesday, 16th May. Kakuma is home to more than 185,000 refugees from countries across the region, including South Sudan, Somalia and the Democratic Republic of Congo, in addition to a host community from the Turkana ethnic group. Nearly 60% of Kakuma’s refugee population is under the age of 18.

The visiting physicians will treat patients in the refugee camp’s two hospitals and six clinics, operated by the International Rescue Committee and Kakuma Mission Hospital. Together, the camp’s medical facilities are staffed permanently by a maximum of six doctors, all general practitioners, at any one time. In addition, the US doctors will deliver training sessions in pediatrics for Kakuma’s medical staff.

With chronic understaffing and the lack of specialist medical care, improving the capability of the camp’s medical staff to treat specialized cases is vital to ensuring that lifesaving care can reach both refugee and Turkana communities. Major health issues affecting Kakuma’s residents vary, and have recently included malaria, lung infections, tuberculosis, HIV, malnutrition and cholera. By providing up-to-date training in pediatrics, the visiting physicians can make a real difference to the long-term prospects of Kakuma’s children.

The mission will be led by Dr Michelle Sandberg and Dr Sabrina Braham, who will be joined by Israeli peers. Dr Sandberg is a pediatrician at Santa Clara Medical Center and an instructor at the Stanford University School of Medicine. Dr Braham is a pediatrician at Menlo Medical Clinic and an instructor at Stanford University School of Medicine.

The mission is made possible by the generous support of IsraAID’s partners, the Koret Foundation.

Dr Sandberg, who has previously visited Kenya to provide specialist training in Nairobi, said:  “I hope we are able to both learn ourselves from the health care providers in Kakuma and provide useful teaching and training workshops. It will be challenging to work in an area with limited resources – to not be able to perform all of the necessary tests, or not having the medications and antibiotics of choice readily available. It will also be hard to bear witness to so much suffering, but I hope to have impact by increasing awareness of the refugee problem in this part of the world and the important work IsraAID is doing.”

Dr Braham said: “Social justice is a big part of our training as pediatric physicians, particularly at Stanford Children’s Hospital, so a trip like this has always been a goal of mine. When I heard about the need for pediatric providers in Kakuma and the opportunity to multiply our efforts by providing training sessions, it was hard to put it off any longer. Above all, I hope that the refugees of Kakuma, as well as the staff caring for them, will feel that the world cares about them.”

IsraAID launched its activities in Kakuma in 2011, working to support the psychological, water and medical needs of refugee and host communities. Programs include two Child Resource Centers, each providing a safe space, recreational activities and safe water for over 150 refugee children per day, water technician training for unemployed young people and specialist medical support for Kakuma’s hospitals and clinics.

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