International Orthodox Christian Charities Works to Curb Spread of Disease among Famine Refugees in Ethiopia

An 80-year-old Ethiopian woman cradles her malnourished grandson. Children are most vulnerable to contracting diseases like cholera and measles due to overcrowded refugee camps and unsanitary conditions. The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, announced that child mortality rates at a camp for Somali refugees in eastern Ethiopia have reached alarming levels, with an average of 10 children under the age of five dying every day since the facility opened in June. IOCC is working with partner agencies in Ethiopia to build latrines in the refugees camps in an effort to avert the spread of disease to an already fragile group of people weakened from a lack of nourishment. (photo: IRIN/George Mulala)

Baltimore, MD (August 16, 2011) — As more than 120,000 people fleeing famine in Somalia crowd into the Dollo Ado refugee camps in Ethiopia, the lack of adequate sanitation is creating a breeding ground for measles, cholera, and other diseases. International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC) in cooperation with the Ethiopian Orthodox Church Development and Inter Church Aid Commission (EOC-DICAC) is taking action to improve sanitation conditions and help avert the spread of disease among the refugees.

Working with local healthcare agencies, IOCC is providing the materials needed to build some 50 latrines in the refugee camps and is on site overseeing this vital preventive health activity. IOCC Ethiopia Country Representative, Sigurd Hanson, says that the current camp conditions are ripe for an epidemic. “The high number of malnourished children due to the ongoing famine makes them more vulnerable to contagious diseases like measles and cholera,” says Hanson. “Add to that overcrowded settlements with poor sanitation and limited access to safe water. Basic sanitation facilities can make a world of difference in protecting these already fragile lives.”

The move to improve sanitation conditions comes on the heels of a recent outbreak of measles in the Dollo Ado camps. According to UN refugee agency, UNHCR, there have been 150 cases of suspected measles and 11 related deaths. With concern growing over the life-threatening mix of measles and high levels of malnutrition, UNHCR and its partners are conducting screening and measles vaccination for all children between the ages of six months and 15 years in the Dollo Ado refugee camps. Religious and community leaders have also been mobilized to raise awareness, and particularly to encourage families to take the sick to health centers.

How You Can Help

You can help the victims of disasters around the world, like those in Horn of Africa, by making a financial gift to the IOCC International Emergency Response Fund, which will provide immediate relief as well as long-term support through the provision of emergency aid, recovery assistance and other support to help those in need. To make a gift, please visit, call toll free at 1-877-803-IOCC (4622), or mail a check or money order payable to IOCC, P.O. Box 17398, Baltimore, Md. 21297-0429.


IOCC, founded in 1992 as the official humanitarian aid agency of the Standing Conference of Canonical Orthodox Bishops in the Americas (SCOBA), has implemented relief and development programs in more than 40 countries around the world.