The vulnerable population in Cox’s Bazar, including both locals and Rohingya refugees, are at risk of several diseases and in need of critical health services for survival, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Tuesday.
Six months after the start of the refugee crisis, the WHO called for continued efforts to further scale up health services for nearly 1.3 million people in Cox's Bazar
"Commendable efforts have been made by the government of Bangladesh and partner agencies to provide health services, prevent diseases such as cholera, and rapidly control outbreaks of measles and diphtheria. However, the challenges are massive, numerous and evolving. The magnitude of the crisis requires continued efforts and generous contributions by all partners to scale up health services for the vulnerable population," said Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, Regional Director for WHO South-East Asia, through a press release..
An estimated 6,88,000 Rohingyas have crossed over to Cox's Bazar from Myanmar since August 25, 2017, joining over 200,000 others who had arrived in earlier waves.
While the majority of the refugees are living in Kutapalong and Balukhali mega camps as well as 11 other settlements, about 79,000 are living with the host population.
The mega camps are currently one of the world's biggest refugee settlement areas and also one of the world's most densely populated areas.
According to the press release, the health needs of this population continue to be immense. Women and young mothers need reproductive health services. An estimated 60,000 children are expected to be born in the camps in the next year. Furthermore, newborns, pregnant and young mothers, children, adults and the elderly need basic health services for injuries, trauma, various non-communicable diseases such as heart disease and diabetes, as well as psychosocial support.
"Water, sanitation, and shelter continues to be far from optimum, increasing the risk of the rapid spread of several communicable and water borne diseases," the Who Regional Director added, stressing the need to accelerate efforts to address health issue.
The upcoming rainy season and concurrant risk of storms and flooding increases the vulnerability of these people to waterborne diseases such as diarrhoea and hepatitis, and vector borne diseases such as malaria, dengue and chikungunya.
To keep a close watch on the situation, WHO established the Early Warning and Response System (EWARS) when the crisis started, to rapidly detect and respond to disease outbreaks. Additionally, WHO has been periodically carrying out risk assessments to enable the Bangladesh Ministry of Health and partners to detect potential health risks and take timely and appropriate measures.
The EWARS and risk assessments helped Bangladesh's carry out large scale vaccination campaigns for cholera, measles, rubella, polio and diphtheria.
WHO continues to lead and coordinate the efforts of over 100 partners managing more than 270 health facilities, while also providing medicine and medical equipment, diagnostics, guidelines, and training.
Despite efforts by the government and partner organizations, the distinct culture and language of the Rohingya refugees creates a major barrier to the provision of health services. However, WHO said the toughest challenge would be to find a safe place to relocate the refugees in case of floods.
"The government of Bangladesh has been extremely generous and forthcoming in hosting and providing for the Rohingyas. However, the health sector is grossly under-funded and grappling to meet the needs of the affected population," Dr Khetrapal Singh said, appealing to the international community to contribute generously and commit to supporting what is clearly set to be a protracted emergency.
Reiterating WHO's commitment to work with the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare as well as partners to address health issues of the vulnerable population, the regional director said concerted efforts by both the national and international communities are needed to reinforce health services for both the Rohingyas and the their host population in Cox's Bazar.