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Covid-19: Rohingyas face greater rapid transmission risk

  • Published at 12:27 pm April 26th, 2020
File photo of Rohingyas at a refugee camp in Cox's Bazar Syed Zakir Hossain/Dhaka Tribune

Lack of internet a key impediment to ensuring reliable information access

Although no cases of Covid-19 have been confirmed yet, Rohingyas are facing a greater risk of rapid transmission of the virus due to lack of adequate health facilities and congested living conditions in the camps, according to the Inter Sector Coordination Group (ISCG), which coordinates the activities of United Nations agencies and local, national, and international NGOs.

“To date, no cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed by the Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research (IEDCR) in the Rohingya refugee camps,” said the group in a statement on Sunday.

Health Sector partners are boosting stocks of medical supplies and equipment, including personal protective equipment (PPE) for the safety of frontline health workers who play a crucial role in the coronavirus response in Cox’s Bazar district, said the ISCG statement.

The statement also said: “However, despite progress made in many areas in a short time, more work remains to meet critical needs for Covid-19 preparedness and response in the district, especially related to PPE for health workers and caregivers, as well as ventilators and oxygen for intensive care treatment.”

“Rohingya communities face an even greater risk of rapid transmission of the virus, due to the limited health infrastructure available and in light of the congested conditions in which they live, in one of the most densely populated camps in the world,” it said.

Only critical services are continuing in the camps, in line with the Directive of the Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commissioner (RRRC). These include health, nutrition, food, and cooking fuel distribution, hygiene promotion, water and sanitation programs and the quarantine of new arrivals, among other services. In efforts to reduce the risk of transmission of COVID-19 to the camps, humanitarian partners have significantly limited movement to the area, keeping in mind the public health objective of the government.

UN agencies and other humanitarian and development partners are supporting government efforts to expand existing isolation and treatment capacities and construct new facilities in and nearby the camps, to serve both refugees and local Bangladeshi communities, taking into account gender considerations.

Furthermore, despite great efforts by host community and refugee volunteers to share pertinent Covid-19 messages, the lack of internet connectivity remains a key impediment to ensuring access to reliable information. It is crucial that connectivity is reestablished in the Rohingya camps and adjacent host communities, to allow rapid access to information which can help fight Covid-19, as well as ensure preparedness in view of the imminent cyclone and monsoon season.

The ongoing lockdown is crucial to contain the outbreak, impacting the livelihoods and food security of the most vulnerable Bangladeshis, particularly those working in agriculture and other informal sectors. In line with government priorities, collective efforts are necessary to protect the food supply chain and support agricultural production to avoid a major food crisis and safeguard the most at risk.

ISCG partners continue to call for additional funding support and international solidarity to create the conditions and mobilize the resources necessary to ensure an adequate COVID-19 response, to fight the pandemic and reduce the risks for local communities and Rohingya refugees.

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