By Kathy Mueller, Canadian Red Cross
 
They shuffle across the dirt threshold. The older ones lean on others for support. Some are too weak to walk and are transported in on a mattress by a team of concerned relatives. Younger children are carried, limp and listless in the arms of their worried parents. All in obvious signs of distress.
 
They do not know what’s wrong with them. They only hope the medical staff of the Canadian Red Cross Health Emergency Response Unit (ERU) can help them feel better.
 
Drought doesn’t just cause thirst, hunger and death – it also causes diseases to spread.Severe food insecurity and the threat of famine in the horn of Africa have placed tens of millions of men, women and children on the cusp of an unprecedented humanitarian catastrophe. Drought doesn’t just cause thirst, hunger and death – it also causes diseases to spread. People suffering from malnutrition are far more vulnerable to infection, and are more likely to die from preventable diseases.

 With support from the Government of Canada, the ERU has established a treatment centre to help manage an outbreak of acute watery diarrhea/cholera that has seen tens of thousands of people affected.
 
With lab tests not possible, medical staff rely on their experience and know-how to determine which treatment is best suited to each patient.
 
“We look, we touch, we feel,” says nurse Colleen Laginskie. “What is their overall demeanour? What do their eyes, their stools, their skin look like? And most importantly, we make sure to ask about their history – how has their body been reacting the last couple of days.”
 
The treatment centre was set up originally to house 60 patients, divided between four large tents. The treatment centre was set up originally to house 60 patients, divided between four large tents. However, patient flow is higher than expected.However, patient flow is higher than expected. More tents and cots are added, filling quickly with children needing medical attention. More than 1,800 people have been seen in the nearly two weeks the treatment centre has been open. 
 
“It’s not important that we are working in tents and not the sterile environment of a Canadian hospital,” explains Laginskie. “Regardless of where we are, the one thing that doesn’t change is the level of care we provide to people who are so desperately in need of someone to tell them, ‘It’s okay. We are here. We are going to help you.’”

You can help by donating to our Africa Drought Fund.