The World Health Organization and health partners in the Rohingya camps in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, have been working round the clock to scale up measures to protect the refugees and their host communities from COVID-19, amidst the pandemic spread.
“Protection of the most vulnerable population is central to WHO’s efforts as we continue to work with countries to control the pandemic by slowing down transmission and reducing mortality,” says Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, Regional Director, WHO South-East Asia.
Disease surveillance is at the heart of evidence-based response. WHO’s early warning and response disease surveillance system in Cox’s Bazar provides crucial information on diseases of outbreak potential to ensure timely response and containment measures.
WHO has trained over 300 volunteers on contact tracing using Go.Data software to allow for efficient and effective contact tracing of those persons who have been in contact with confirmed positive cases.
As on 28 June, as many as 2 456 cases of infection have been confirmed in Cox’s Bazar District and 50 refugees have tested positive in the Rohingya camps.
“Testing is key to initiate timely response against COVID-19. To scale up diagnostic confirmation of COVID-19 cases in Cox’s Bazar, WHO has provided necessary equipment, supplies, personnel and technical guidance to the Field Laboratory of Bangladesh’s Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research (IEDCR). The laboratory now tests over 500 samples of COVID-19 each day from the camps as well as the host population of Cox’s Bazar and neighbouring districts,” says Dr Bardan Jung Rana, WHO Representative to Bangladesh.
Applying stringent infection prevention and control measures in healthcare facilities, communities and households is crucial to prevent transmission and amplification of cases. WHO has trained over 1,000 health personnel as well as those from other sectors of the government and humanitarian agencies in Cox’s Bazar on infection prevention and control and continues to provide supportive on-site supervision.
With technical support from WHO, partners are setting up isolation & treatment centres with over 1000 extra beds for patients with severe acute respiratory infections in the camps. While around 400 beds are currently operational, the full capacity should become operational by mid-July 2020.
WHO has also trained over 250 health personnel in Cox’s Bazar district on clinical case management of COVID-19 to ensure treatment protocol is in line with recommended guidelines and meets minimum standards.
However, there are many challenges. Some globally recommended preventive measures such as physical distancing are difficult to implement in the densely populated refugees camps. Low literacy levels and lack of written script for the Rohingya language pose additional challenges for refugees to obtain authentic information on the coronavirus.
WHO and health sector partners have been informing the community on COVID-19 as well as the importance of seeking essential healthcare services during these times through community health volunteers, community leaders, mike services in the camps and radio programs.
Although the health sector is working to ensure that essential healthcare services are not interrupted, specially in view of the risk of other diseases in the monsoon and cyclone season, there has been a significant drop in utilization of services since the confirmation of COVID-19 cases in the camps. There is high risk of increase in other diseases and conditions that can further stretch the capacity of the existing health system.
Ensuring that the most vulnerable population have access to and utilize the critical healthcare services is a priority for WHO. The immunization strategy in the camp is being revised to ensure vaccinations continue in order to prevent another potential communicable disease outbreak, says Dr Rana.
Technical assistance in mental health and psychosocial support, sexual and reproductive health and gender-based violence is being increased to minimize the adverse impacts of COVID-19 to the extent possible for those in lockdown, isolation or quarantine.
Furthermore, as the risk of water borne and vector borne diseases remains high in the camps, WHO continues to monitor the risks and support partners in prevention and management activities.
The Rohingya refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar are the world’s largest refugee camp cluster, comprising over 850,000 refugees living in extremely crowded conditions, which has put immense pressure on essential services such as water, electricity and healthcare.
Source: World Health Organization