Dire warning of health, crime threat

Getrude Makhafola and Sapa

Getrude Makhafola and Sapa

Relief organisations have warned that humanitarian camps set up to house foreigners escaping xenophobic attacks would soon turn into breeding zones for disease and crime.

Addressing the media in Cape Town yesterday, Paula Akugizibwe, a spokesman for Aids and Rights Alliance for Southern Africa, said the government must step in and provide health services in the camps.

"They need to put a plan in place to ensure that people living in these camps have access to medication."

She said those who were HIV-positive and TB patients were at risk and needed urgent attention.

"Even those who were healthy were in danger of contracting contagious diseases such as TB because of overcrowding," Akugizibwe said.

Treatment Action Campaign chairman Zackie Achmat said the situation in some of the camps was of serious concern. Fifty-eight cases of cholera had already been reported in one of the camps in Nyanga township, where close to 400 foreigners had taken shelter.

NGOs operating in Gauteng also raised similar concerns.

Doctors Without Borders expressed concern about the health risk at the camps, especially for young children and babies.

Lung infections and diarrhoea were reported to be increasing.

So far 50 people have bee killed while 35000 foreigners have been displaced after two weeks of mayhem and violence.

The displaced are living in makeshift shelters, if not in the open veld, and without sanitation.

Spokesman for the Red Cross Society, Phumi Yeni, said yesterday that the demand for medical assistance was increasing.

She said her organisation was trying to minimise the effect by diagnosing patients as soon as possible and referring them to hospitals.

"When too many people are crowded in such an environment they become prone to health risks.

"We need doctors who can assist in these camps.

"We can't wait for things to get worse than they are now," Yeni said.

DA spokesman Jack Bloom called on the SANDF to deploy army medics to help.

"We have yet to see the deployment of army medics to take the strain off local health services," Bloom said.

Louis Da Silva from the Mozambican consulate said that his office was not aware of the health risk at the camps.

"We are going to look into the problem and do everything we can to help," he said.

The Red Cross has appealed to the public to help by becoming volunteers or to donate R20 by sending an SMS with their name to 40779.