Officials putting great emphasis on prevention, as spread of infection will be difficult to contain
Health officials in Cox’s Bazar Rohingya camps are putting precautionary plans into action to prevent a potential Covid-19 outbreak, as the world faces a pandemic.
Both the government and the international agencies are putting great emphasis on placing preventive measures in the refugee camps, since it will be very difficult to deal with a situation that may arise from any infection, officials told Dhaka Tribune.
So far, no Rohingya person has been found with symptoms of the coronavirus infection in any of the 34 camps, they added.
But compared to the rest of Bangladesh, about a million Rohingya refugees, sheltered in the southernmost district of the country, are at a greater risk of being infected by the deadly Covid-19, a new coronavirus strain that originated in China, mainly due to the crowded and unhygienic conditions at the camps, the health officials said.
Speaking to this correspondent, Mahbub Alam Talukder, refugee relief and repatriation commissioner (RRRC) based in Cox’s Bazar, said the government was aware of the danger that the virus might pose to the Rohingya camps.
“Right after the detection of the first infected person in the country, we have taken precautionary measures in all 34 camps. There is nothing to worry,” said Mahbub, the top government person on the ground in relation to the Rohingya issue.
“We have also put adequate isolation facility in place for those suspected to have the infection,” he added.
The RRRC also said his office had started a campaign on Tuesday to create awareness among the Rohingyas about the crisis.
However, several Rohingya leaders at the camps – also known as Majhis – said lack of access to television and internet in the camps are preventing people from becoming more aware of the situation.
There is no facility available yet in and around the camps to test the deadly virus, which was declared as a pandemic by World Health Organization (WHO) on Wednesday.
“We don’t have any equipment to test the virus. If we suspect anyone, we will isolate him or her. Then we will send the sample to Dhaka for confirmation,” Mahbub told Dhaka Tribune.
“We have also banned new foreigners from entering the camps. Only those who have been here from before are allowed to enter,” he added.
Meanwhile, the international organizations are mobilizing resources to prepare for the prevention of and the response to a potential outbreak.
WHO Bangladesh said that, along with other measures, the UN body’s epidemiology team is conducting trainings on early warning alert and response for over 250 clinical focal points, and for reporting officers of health facilities and agencies.
“Health partners are working closely with public authorities for reviewing and adapting global and national guidelines to the context of local Rohingya refugees settings,” said Catalin Bercaru, from the communication and media relations department of WHO Bangladesh. “This includes early detection, diagnosis, reporting/recording, referrals, lab work, isolation capacity, case management and contact tracing.”
WHO and partners have already provided personal protection equipment to Cox’s Bazar Sadar Hospital, upazila health complex and other health facilities, the official said.
“Covid-19 key protection messages have been created and disseminated among (the) Rohingya community, with the focus on handwashing, cough hygiene and food safety,” he added.
Bercaru further said 280 health workers had been trained on infection prevention and control in health facilities, with a special emphasis on Covid-19.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), co-chair of the Inter Sector Coordination Group, said it was taking the issue very seriously and monitoring the situation.
Mostafa Mohammad Sazzad Hossain, assistant communication officer of UNHCR, said: “The Bangladesh Ministry of Health has just completed and validated a National Response Plan (for the country). In Cox’s Bazar, humanitarian agencies are finalizing a multi-sector response plan in support to the government. A specific health sector preparedness and response plan is also being finalized.”
Mostafa further added that almost 300 health staff had received training in infection prevention and control (IPC), and additional measures, including increasing the number of handwashing facilities in distribution centres, health points, nutrition centres, etc as well as the provision of additional soap are underway.
The UNHCR and all health and WASH partners carry out regular hygiene promotion activities within the camps, the official said.
Dr Husni Mubarak Zainal, medical coordinator of Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors without Borders), said: “Obviously, people in such congested situation are at greater risk... there must be every effort from all to work together to prevent it [the infection].”
He said his organization along with other partners were working out a plan as to how to make people aware of the issues related to hygiene that can prevent the infection.