Coronavirus enters Bangladesh’s Rohingya camps – home to 1 million refugees
An ethnic Rohingya refugee and a Bangladeshi citizen have tested positive for COVID-19. This comes as aid workers warned of a potential humanitarian disaster if there is a significant outbreak in the refugee camps outside Cox's Bazar.
The novel coronavirus has been detected in one of the camps in southern Bangladesh that are home to more than a million Rohingya refugees, as humanitarian groups warned that the infection could devastate the crowded settlement.
Many of the Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazar camps fled across the border to Bangladesh to escape violence in neighbouring Myanmar.
One of the confirmed cases was a Rohingya refugee, and the other was a Bangladeshi citizen who lives in the surrounding area of the camps, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said in a statement.
Coronavirus infections have been gathering pace in recent days in Bangladesh, which has reported 18,863 cases of COVID-19 and 283 deaths. Now, the Bangladeshi government has suspended most of the services within the densely populated camps in late March, including educational programs and other advocacy work.
Health officials have now begun to treat both patients while isolating and testing other refugees in the camps, the agency said.
Earlier, aid workers warned of a potential humanitarian disaster if there is a significant outbreak in the refugee camps outside Cox's Bazar.
Daniel P. Sullivan, a senior advocate for human rights with the US-based organization Refugees International, called COVID-19 detection in the Rohingya refugee camps as “a nightmare”.
“The first positive case of Covid-19 in the Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh is the realization of a nightmare scenario,” he said.
“In addition, the prevalence of underlying health conditions among refugees and the deteriorating sanitary conditions sure to come with the looming monsoon and flooding season make for a witch’s brew of conditions in which the virus is sure to thrive.
He also stressed the importance of the Bangladeshi government’s efforts to ensure open communication as well as more medical resources within the refugee camp to prevent and prepare for further spread.
Dr Shamim Jahan -- Save the Children's Health Director in Bangladesh -- said in a statement that healthcare capacity in the country had already been overwhelmed by the virus.
"There are only an estimated 2,000 ventilators in all of Bangladesh, serving a population of 160 million people. In the Rohingya refugee camps – home to nearly a million people – there are no intensive care beds at this moment," he was quoted as saying by Reuters.
"Now that the virus has entered the world's largest refugee settlement in Cox's Bazar we are looking at the very real prospect that thousands of people may die from COVID-19. This pandemic could set Bangladesh back by decades."
Health facilities lack staff and space, while people in the camps do not have enough soap and water or space to protect themselves, said Manish Agrawal, Bangladesh Country Director at the International Rescue Committee.
"Here, people are living 40,000 to 70,000 people per square kilometer. That’s at least 1.6 times the population density on board the Diamond Princess cruise ship, where the disease spread four times as fast than in Wuhan at the peak of the outbreak," he said, referring to a cruise ship in Japan where the virus spread rapidly earlier this year.
"Without efforts to increase health care access, improve sanitation, isolate suspected cases and decongest the camp the disease will devastate the refugee and local population here, where there is a much lower standard of living and a higher rate of existing illness that make refugees more susceptible to the virus," he said.
More than 730,000 Rohingya arrived from Myanmar in late 2017 after fleeing a military crackdown. Myanmar is facing charges of genocide at the International Court of Justice in The Hague over the violence. The army denies genocide, saying it was fighting a legitimate battle against Rohingya militants who attacked first.