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Dr. Bill Frist

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Inside Dadaab Refugee Complex: What Is Working, What is Not

Posted: 08/09/11 05:36 PM ET

Yesterday, I visited the Dadaab Refugee Complex in eastern Kenya with Second Lady Dr. Jill Biden and USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah. While there, we heard stories from mothers with their children who had lost their husbands. Families who had journeyed for weeks to arrive at the camp malnourished and in dire need of medical assistance. And, worst of all, parents who had heartbreaking stories of losing children in the flight from famine in Somalia.

There are two main points, as a doctor and as a former senator, that I want to highlight in the midst of this terrible crisis.

First, though the United States has provided an enormous contribution of aid (we are providing 47% of the food), we need the help of other nations immediately. The other 53% of funding is being provided by 40 other countries. We need them to step up. We also need private donations to aid agencies as soon as possible.

For instance, there are over 150 cases of measles, which is huge and can rapidly lead to the death of thousands, in the over-crowded Dadaab camp. Vaccinations can halt the spread of such fatal diseases. These children's health is already severely compromised by malnutrition. Aid agencies need public dollars to fight these diseases, like measles and polio, with vaccinations, oral rehydration, and vitamins, especially in children under the age of five.

However we do not need to rely on public dollars alone. I have seen firsthand that even the simplest form of aid can save lives and even tiny investments can make a huge impact. A measles vaccination costs under $2 and therapeutic feeding can cost as little as a dollar a day. A small donation from you can save the life of a child and I am confident that even in our own tough times, Americans will respond generously as they always have when catastrophe strikes around the globe.

Second, the good news is that we have learned that the famine is not an intractable problem for the region. Though Somalians are having to flee their country and drought is occurring throughout the Horn of Africa, Kenya and Ethiopia are much better prepared to withstand the low rainfall. Our American dollars over the past ten years have paid off. Our investments in agricultural and livestock advancements have prevented the drought from becoming a famine in these two countries.

The Dadaab camp is a humanitarian crisis and we need your support. Please consider a donation today to an aid agency who is on the ground providing medical and food assistance to those suffering from the effects of famine.

Senator Bill Frist, MD is the Chair of Hope Through Healing Hands.