Rohingyas at high risk for winter diseases

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Shamsuddin Illius, Chittagong
Publication Date: 9 November, 2017 00:00 00 AM
Media: The Independent
Original Link: Rohingyas at high risk for winter diseases
E-paper Link: Rohingyas at high risk for winter diseases

With approaching winter, the lack of warm clothes has added to the miseries of Rohingyas who have fled to Bangladesh from Rakhine state in neighbouring Myanmar.

Besides, doctors also warned against the increased risk of the outbreak of cold-borne diseases, including respiratory tract infection, at Rohingya refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar.

The children and elderly are particularly vulnerable to these diseases, they added. According to the UNHCR, over six lakh Rohingyas have entered Bangladesh since August 25 and the number has been increasing with each passing day.

Sources said more than 9.12 lakh Rohingyas, including new arrivals, have taken shelter at different makeshift camps made of tarpaulins and bamboo in Cox’s Bazar. However, many of them are reportedly still living on hill slopes and in forests under the open sky. These people also out of the coverage of sanitation, healthcare and drinking water facilities.

“During winter, the temperature in Cox’s Bazar dips to around 10–15 degrees. The area is hit by acute cold especially in December and January,” said Mojibul Haque, senior observer at the Cox’s Bazar Met Office.

The refugees said they do not have sweaters, blankets, mats, jackets or other warm clothes to tide over the cold season.

“The people just fled their homes to save their lives in the face of brutal military crackdown. Their homes were set on fire and most of them escaped without any belongings, including warm clothes. Now, cold is adding to their existing problems. However, the government and aid agencies are working on it,” said Joynal Abedin, a Rohingya leader.

Noor Halima, 35, who hails from Maungdaw and has taken shelter at the Balukhali camp with her five children, said: “When a local Rakhine mob and the state military killed my husband, we took shelter in a jungle. They also set our house ablaze. We don’t have any warm clothes, but have received relief from the government. My youngest son is suffering from cold-related diseases.”

Like Noor, many refugees are in dire need of warm clothes.

Shirin Akhter, national communication officer of the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), told The Independent: “We’re planning to procure warm clothes for the Rohingyas for winter. However, from the beginning of our humanitarian response to the Rohingyas, we’ve been distributing blankets to them as a non-food item. Other aid agencies have also distributed blankets to them.”

“As winter is approaching, the refugees need warm clothes. The government has also asked us about it. We’ve some warm clothes  donated by some people, but we need more. The existing stock of warm clothes will be distributed soon,” said Md Reazul Karim, who is in-charge of the Rohingya refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar.

According to the health emergency control centre of the DGHS, UNICEF, WHO and UNFPA in Cox’s Bazar, some 66,853 patients have been suffering from respiratory tract infection and the number is expected to rise with the approaching winter.

Sources said over 107 doctors are deployed across 74 static healthcare centres at the refugee camps. The healthcare centres include 25 run by the government, 10 by the Army, and 39 by different NGOs.

Dr Mohiuddin Hussain Khan of WHO, who is also the agency delegate to the Inter Sector Coordination Group (ISCG) in Dhaka, told The Independent: “Some cold-related diseases, including RTI, are being reported among the refugees as winter is now approaching. However, many medical teams have been working at the camps.”

An ISCG report says: “Crowded living conditions at the camps, coupled with lack of adequate water and sanitation, continue to present risks of the outbreak of communicable diseases, notably acute water diarrhoea, bacillary dysentery, hepatitis E, typhoid fever, etc.”

Shamsuddin Illius
Shamsuddin Illius is a print and online media journalist. He has been working in the field (fulltime) of journalism since 2010. He is very much passionate about journalism since his early age. Currently he is the Bureau Chief-Chittagong at The Business Standard.

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