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Coronavirus: Much more must be done to protect Rohingya camps

  • Published at 07:50 pm April 23rd, 2020
Bangladesh is now hosting over 1.1 million Rohingyas who have fled their homeland in Rakhine State after being persecuted by their own country Mahmud Hossain Opu/Dhaka Tribune

Limited testing, ICUs, skilled medical staff and PPEs key challenges; only six people out of more than one million Rohingya population tested so far

Although there have been no confirmed cases of Covid-19 infection among the Rohingya population sheltered in Cox’s Bazar, the persecuted community from Myanmar still remains extremely vulnerable to the global pandemic.

Against such a grim scenario, it appears that enough is not being done to protect the Rohingya camps from the deadly viral infection that is creating havoc across the world, including Bangladesh.

“We have placed restrictions in the Rohingya camps since the beginning of March in order to stop the outbreak of the virus. We think that has worked,” said Mahbub Alam Talukder, the refugee relief and repatriation commissioner (RRRC) based in Cox’s Bazar.

“We have testing facility in Cox’s Bazar. We have adequate medical equipment. We have so far tested six people [in the Rohingya camps]. I don’t think there is a cause for concern,” he told Dhaka Tribune on Thursday.

However, officials of the government, United Nations agencies and international humanitarian community are not as optimistic as RRRC Talukder, the top government man on the ground working with the Rohingya issue.

The officials are of the opinion that much more must be done to stop the novel coronavirus – which is causing Covid-19, a severely acute respiratory illness – from entering the Rohingya settlements and the areas, where the host communities live.

The fact that one of the staff of an international NGO working in a Rohingya camp got exposed to Covid-19 calls for taking measures most urgently, they added.

The officials also said that testing of six out of about a million Rohingya people, who live in a very congested and unhygienic situations, is negligible.

Placing great emphasis on more testing, they called for ensuring adequate medical equipment, isolation facilities, ventilators and intensive care units.

“Both host communities and refugees in Cox’s Bazar, with a population density one and a half times higher than New York City, are considered to be among the most at risk globally in this pandemic,” Andrej Mahecic, spokesperson of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), told a press briefing in Geneva on Tuesday.

“To ensure (that) preparedness measures can proceed safely, personal protective equipment (PPE) is desperately needed, given the magnitude of the increased demands. The large-scale procurement and distribution of PPE is vital to ensure that Covid-19 does not take hold and spread rapidly.”

According to the Inter Sector Coordination Group (ISCG) that coordinates the activities of the agencies serving the Rohingyas, the key challenges with respect to mitigating the risk continue to be limited testing, intensive care capacity, skilled medical staff and personal protective equipment for frontline health workers.

The other challenges are restricted telecommunications in the camps, negative perceptions around healthcare and distrust of responders, it said.

“Heaven forbid, if the virus hits the Rohingya camps, it will be catastrophic in the extreme because, given the congestions, it will be all but impossible to contain the spreading. We must do what it takes to stop this virus to enter the camps,” said an official concerned.