Epidemiological patterns of scurvy among Ethiopian refugees.

Desenclos JC Berry AM Padt R Farah B Segala C Nabil AM
Bulletin of the World Health Organization 1989 ; 67(3); 309-16. doi: . Epub 1989 09 27


In the Horn of Africa, scurvy is a serious public health problem for refugees who are dependent on standard relief food (cereals, legumes, and oil). To assess the risk factors and to quantify the potential magnitude of scurvy among these displaced communities, we reviewed data collected from 1985 to 1987 by relief programmes in five refugee camps in Somalia and one in the Sudan. Outbreaks of clinical scurvy occurred among refugees in all the camps from 3 to 4 months after their arrival. The incidence of scurvy in two camps was, respectively, 14% over a period of 4 months and 19.8% over a period of 18 months. Prevalences of scurvy estimated from random population samples in the six study camps ranged from 13.6% to 44%. The risk of developing scurvy increased significantly with the length of time that refugees had been in the camps and was also significantly higher among those who were older and among females, particularly those of childbearing age. The prevalence of scurvy among refugees was similar, irrespective of whether or not they had attended supplementary feeding programmes. The control measures that were implemented had a moderate and slow impact on the disease. In both Somalia and the Sudan the relief food distributed to the refugees was almost completely deficient in vitamin C, while the environment where the camps were located precluded an adequate supply of fresh food. To avoid scurvy among refugee communities in this area of Africa it is therefore recommended that vitamin C supplements be added to the relief food at an early stage of a crisis.