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Disease a concern for Rohingya refugees as monsoon arrives

DHAKA (UCAN): Aid groups have launched the second phase of a cholera vaccination campaign for the up to one million Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh amid warnings of diseases and natural calamities with the coming of the monsoon season.
The week-long oral vaccination of refugees and host communities started on May 6. This follows up on a similar campaign in October to November 2017, which saw about 900,000 refugees innoculated in up to 12 settlements in Cox’s Bazar.
“Considering the water and sanitation conditions in the overcrowded camps, and the increased risk of disease outbreaks in the monsoon season, the health sector is taking all possible measures to prevent cholera and other waterborne and vector-borne diseases,” said Dr. Bardan Jung Rana, the World Health Organisation  (WHO) representative in Bangladesh.
Some 245 mobile medical teams have been immunising all people over a year old in refugee camps and host communities the in Ukhiya and Teknaf subdistricts.
Bangladesh’s Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, with support from the WHO, UNICEF and other partner aid agencies, is supporting the campaign.
Experts warn that despite vigilance, disease outbreaks in camps are possible.
“The camps are overcrowded and unsanitary as refugees live and cook very close to their toilets. During the monsoon, flooding would spark the possibility of a cholera outbreak as well as other waterborne diseases,” Dr. Wasim Firuz, a medical officer with Doctors Without Borders, said.
Firuz, who has been in the camps for six months, said that including the host community in the vaccination programme is a timely decision.
“We have seen diphtheria in the camps spreading to the host community, so it was absolutely important to include the host community in vaccination,” he said.
“People need to get vaccines for hepatitis, adequate training on hygiene at their residences and neonatal care,” Firuz said.
“We think 50,000 children will be born in the camps this year, so that’s a serious concern for us,” he added.
Dr. Richard Brennan, director of emergency operations at WHO, warned of risks from other diseases, natural hazards and a serious funding shortage.
“We’re not out of the woods yet. We are looking down the barrel of the monsoon season, with the inherent risk of flooding and landslides, as well as the cyclone season,” he told journalists in Geneva on May 8.
Brennan said US$950 million ($7.4 billion) is required to help the refugees but only around 16 per cent of the amount has been provided. Resources are even scarcer for healthcare, with only 6.3 per cent of funding needs met, he noted.

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