Project Stories:

Chronically ill in a refugee camp

Epilepsy and life on the run

by Johannes Kortmann/LKO, 2016/01/26

Chronic diseases such as diabetes, epilepsy or hypertension are a great challenge for affected persons worldwide. If the home of the patients is not the Western part of the world, where good medical care is provided, but a poor refugee camp in Africa, this challenge can quickly become a fight for survival.

In the humedica health care station in the Ethiopian Somalian refugee camp Melkadida, the carers focus not only on the treatment of emergencies, but also increasingly on the care for the chronically sick patients. A task, which can only met as best as possible due to the circumstances, i.e. lacking resources and the seclusion of the camp.

The treatment of refugees suffering from epilepsy is a very special case as it is a disease, which causes enormous strain for the victims because of the restricted availability of medication and diagnostic possibilities. In the health care station of the Melkadida refugee camp currently 51 men and women are treated for epilepsy. Samet and Nadim are two of them. Their fate and medical history are touching.

Samet

The 32 year old Samet is a father of four children and comes from a Southern region in Somalia, where he and his family lived off cow and goat raising up to his 26th year. At the age of 14 he had his first epileptic seizure. He recalls running behind his donkey cart, when he suddenly heard the sounds of strong wind and a swish in his ears.

He stood still and the sounds disappeared. One week later he relived a similar phenomenon, but this time the swishing sounds stayed on and he lost consciousness. When he regained consciousness, some people had found him and gave him water to drink. Only when the heavy headaches subsided, he was able to go home again.

Since that day epileptic seizures have not left him. At least once a week he lost consciousness. Sometimes even two or three times. „One time I awakened in a fence of thorns. My whole body was covered with thorns. They told me, I had the „Evil“. But I was certain not to have the „Evil“. When Samet was 25 years old, the battlefields of the Somalian Al-Shabab Militia and the Ethiopian armed forces came closer and closer to his home. Out of concern for his cattle he decided to stay on site with his brother.

A decision with serious consequences. One day Al-Shabab fighters captured him. They assumed he worked for the Ethiopian army and questioned him for three days and nights. They broke his shoulder with a rifle butt. When he could finally convince his torturers that he was no spy, they offered him to join the militia. He declined and was transported to another jail. There he was tortured again until one day he could escape and flee with his family to Ethiopia.

Since Samet lives in Melkadida and is treated in the humedica health care station, his epileptic fits only occur every three or four months. A fact that leaves him both grateful and hopeful: „If the disease continues like this, maybe one day I will be able to go somewhere else and to offer my children a better life.“

Nadim

The seven year old Nadim is another regular patient of the health care station. He lives in Melkadida since he is two years old, at the age of three he became ill with epilepsy. Due to the early beginning of the disease he suffers from developmental delay, which will impair his whole life. His mother tells us that the family comes originally from the city Luug in South Somalia.

„We had some farmland and two cows. It never was much, but it was enough. But then the militia came and told us that one half of our crops now belonged to the government. Some farmers resisted and got arrested, we never heard again from some of them. When on top of all the rain stopped falling and the cows perished, we packed up our possessions and walked for three days and nights until a vehicle took us along to Melkadida.“

One year later, Nadim had his first epileptic seizure. „It was terrifying.“, his mother explains. „Sometimes he had about ten fits a day. He stopped being responsive and was still too young to speak. Now and then his head hit the ground and received wounds that would not heal. He still has the scars.“

Nadim was one of the first patients to be treated by the humedica team in Melkadida. Since then his epileptic seizures occur no more than once a month. „The health care station was our stroke of luck. Basically we are doing well here. The most important thing is of course that Nadim can be treated here.“

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Note: humedica runs the medical emergency relief intervention thanks to the support of the Foreign Office of Germany since 2011.

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