No report of coronavirus infection in Rohingya camps yet; Govt urged to lift restrictions on 3G, 4G communications
Amid the growing concerns about public safety due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, insufficient essential resources are posing a great risk as far as preventing the spread of the deadly disease in the cramped Rohingya camps is concerned.
Lack of testing facilities, intensive care units (ICU) and skilled medical professionals in both the Rohingya camps and the Cox’s Bazar district remain a major challenge in preventing the coronavirus infection in the refugee settlements, according to the Inter Sector Coordination Group (ISCG), the coordinating body of humanitarian organizations, including the United Nations agencies, working in relation to the Rohingya crisis.
“The major current gaps are the extremely limited testing, and intensive care capacity in the district. The concern about limited testing capacity is the possible delays in securing results, which may impact the effectiveness of the response,” said ISCG.
“The absence of intensive care capacity is a major concern, as this will inhibit the ability to provide the needed care quickly for serious or complicated cases,” it added.
“Even if equipment was available, securing skilled medical staff to manage the situation will be a major challenge,” the ISCG further added.
No case of coronavirus infection has been traced in Cox’s Bazar yet – including all 34 Rohingya camps in the district.
Communication is the key to timely and effective management of this situation, said the ISCG, calling for the government to lift the restrictions on mobile data communications in the Rohingya camps.
“3G and 4G mobile data restrictions in the camps have been in place since September 2019, and present a daily challenge to refugees, humanitarian and government service providers, and host communities alike. Life-saving health interventions require rapid and effective communication,” it said.
Ease of humanitarian access must be ensured throughout the response to Covid -19, including access of humanitarian staff into the camps, and refugees’ access to services, said ISCG.
The government has completed a national preparedness and response plan for Bangladesh, which includes the Rohingya people, said ISCG.
“The humanitarian community continues to advocate that refugees are fully included in the implementation of the national and all district level plans,” it said.
The Cox’s Bazar district administration has established isolation facilities with 50 beds in Ramu and 50 beds in Chakaria. In Ukhiya and Teknaf, an initial 47 isolation beds are functional and stand ready in nine health facilities run by humanitarian partners in and around the refugee camps, with the potential to create more isolation capacity in the existing facilities.
In support of government plans, the humanitarian community – NGOs and UN – have developed an inter-sector preparedness and response plan for refugees and host communities.
The current priority is prevention through messaging and awareness raising among all communities, and intensified hygiene promotion.
Communication is happening through radio spots, videos and messages passed by imams and other community leaders, and volunteers explaining how the virus spreads, how people can protect themselves and their families, symptoms and care-seeking.
Trainings on Covid-19 surveillance, infection prevention and control, and clinical management have been delivered to more than 250 health staff in the camp health facilities.
All sectors are planning for the possible next phases of the response, including defining essential services and assistance and modalities for continuation, mapping supplies and pipelines, and defining additional measures to be taken in the camps.
Meanwhile, the government has kept a testing lab ready in Cox's Bazar to identify and treat the Rohingyas and other citizens if any infections are reported in the coastal district, says Dr Meerjady Sabrina Flora, director of the Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research (IEDCR).
“There is a testing lab at the Cox's Bazar Medical College Hospital. If any person gets infected in the district, initiatives will be taken to take the patient to the hospital for testing and treatment,” she said while briefing the press via videoconference on Monday.