Thousands of Rohingya, currently sheltered at different refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar, are suffering from different diseases, mainly diarrhoea and fever, but the camps and the whole area can face a major outbreak if countermeasures are not taken quickly, people related to health services say.
Around 400,000 people, fleeing brutal persecution in Myanmar’s Rakhine state, have taken refuge in different areas of Cox’s Bazar district, mostly Teknaf and Ukhiya, after crossing over to Bangladesh since late August.
With the likelihood of more Rohingya joining them soon, the refugees who are in the camps and makeshift shelters are now scrambling for food, clean water and health services.
Health officials working at Rohingya camp and settlement areas in Teknaf and Ukhiya have said that the number of refugees, mostly children, visiting the medical centres with waterborne diseases, fever, cold and skin diseases are rising every day.
People involved in providing humanitarian aid, both government and non-government, said these people, many with gunshot and other injuries, braved heavy rain and rough terrain during their exodus to Bangladesh, surviving for days without clean water, food and dry shelter.
Approximately 100,000 refugees here at the moment are suffering from fever and diarrhoeal diseases, said a health official.
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Under the circumstances, different health experts have echoed the concern expressed by the International Organisation for Migration and UNHCR last week over the possibilities of outbreak of various diseases.
Health expert Prof Dr Kaniz Hasina Sheuli told the Dhaka Tribune: “Lack of proper sanitation facilities and safe drinking water at the moment is something that can cause a greater health risk for the Rohingya refugees.”
She also said that the medical facilities at the camps are insufficient for this huge number of people.
“For one doctor to see 1,000 patients in a day is very difficult. So, we really need to respond quickly as there are over 15,000 children among the refugees; and yes, more are coming.”
Apart from the government, many local and international NGOs are also trying their best to provide medical services to the refugees, but that is still inadequate, spot visits have showed.
Expressing concern over a possible disease outbreak, the director and coordinator of Gonoshsthaya Kendra at Cox’s Bazar, Nasima Yasmin, said: “We are treating around 4,000 children of different ages at two refugee camps. Most of them are suffering from malnourishment, diarrhoea, respiratory infections, skin diseases, dehydration, measles and parasitic worms.”
Government officials, however, said they have taken measures to respond quickly to the threat of an outbreak. The NGOs, health care centres in the localities and camps, and private health organisations are working with that goal following their directives.
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Our correspondent found thousands of refugees living under open sky in fields near Kutupalong camp at Ukhiya yesterday.
Most of them are suffering from waterborne diseases as they either does not have access to proper sanitation facilities or do not know where to go for that, amidst a scarcity of clean water. They usually defecate out in the open.
Volunteers, distributing relief items to the Rohingya, gave them Orsaline and water purifying tablets along with clean water, but they do not know how to use the medicines.
Both the government and NGOs have deployed more health officials in these areas to help them and bring the situation under control.
One of the refugees, Abdus Sattar said he, his wife and their five children spent Friday night in front of the Upazila Parishad building.
He told the Dhaka Tribune that three of his children have been suffering from high fiver and they also developed diarrhoea yesterday morning.
Sattar’s family’s case is only one in thousands.
Cox’s Bazar Gonoshsthaya Kendra Director Nasima Yasmin said: “As prevention measure, we are running an awareness programme that includes cutting the fingernails of children so that these diseases can’t spread.
“We also have started installation of 200 toilets, and six waters tanks that will supply 2,000 litres of safe drinking water every day. Our mobile teams are also supplying 4,000 litres of drinking water every day.”
Emphasising more support from all sides, she said: “We are distributing Orsaline, food supplements and drinking water. But we only have 10 doctors and 15 paramedics in five medical camps.”
“Although more doctors are coming, what we have and are doing right now is not sufficient for around 400,000 refugees who will be joined by more soon,” Nasima added.
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About the issues, Pintu Kanti Bhattacharya, deputy director of Directorate General of Family Planning, Cox’s Bazar office, told the Dhaka Tribune: “The government’s plan is to ensure proper health facilities for all refugees. We are doing everything we can.”
He said all Rohingya children, aged between six months and 15 years, will be vaccinated for rubella very soon.
“We’ve found out that most of these children have not been vaccinated. That’s why we’ve decided to administer polio vaccines on children below five years while children aged between six months and five years will be given vitamin A capsules.”