Scurvy Outbreak Among South Sudanese Adolescents and Young Men - Kakuma Refugee Camp, Kenya, 2017-2018.MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2019 Jan 25; 68(3):72-75.MM
Scurvy is a relatively rare micronutrient deficiency disease that can occur among refugees dependent on food aid (1). Inadequate access to fresh fruits and vegetables in refugee camps can result in scurvy (2,3). Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya's Turkana District is home to 148,000 refugees, mostly from Somalia and South Sudan, who receive food assistance. In August 2017, a number of South Sudanese adolescent and young adult male refugees were evaluated at a health clinic in the camp for calf pain, chest pain, and gingival swelling. Because the symptoms were nonspecific, no diagnosis was made, and some patients received antibiotics and analgesics. All were managed as outpatients, but symptoms did not improve. During subsequent months, more young men with similar symptoms were reported. On January 20, 2018, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) was informed and conducted clinical examinations. Signs and symptoms included lower limb pain and swelling (in some cases involving joints), lethargy, fatigue, gingival swelling and pain, hyperkeratotic skin changes, and chest pain. Based on these clinical findings, micronutrient deficiency, particularly vitamin C deficiency (scurvy), was considered a possible diagnosis, and an investigation of a possible outbreak was conducted. The suspected scurvy cases all occurred in young men from South Sudan who were living and cooking together in one geographic section of the camp. All patients who received treatment with vitamin C noted improvement of symptoms within <1 week. Patients were provided with food and cash assistance, the latter to allow dietary diversification (i.e., fresh fruits and vegetables). However, both forms of assistance were inadequate to allow access to sufficient amount of calories and the dietary diversification needed for intake of micronutrients, such as vitamin C. It is important to consider these needs when determining the amount of food or cash assistance provided to adolescents and young adult male refugees.