VACCINATION of around half a million children in Rohingya refugee camps, temporary settlements, and surrounding areas in Bangladesh is taking place to try stop the spread of diphtheria. The WHO, UNICEF, and other international healthcare bodies are working to tackle this respiratory condition that children are particularly vulnerable to, which has broken out amongst Rohingya refugees in this region escaping the conflict in Burma.
Refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar have seen 31 deaths and 3,954 suspected cases of diphtheria between 8th November 2017 and 11th January 2018. The disease is contracted either through direct physical contact or from breathing in aerosolised secretions from coughs or sneezes of those infected. A 3-week vaccination programme was initiated in which the pentavalent vaccine, which protects against diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, haemophilus influenzae type b, and hepatitis b, was given to nearly 150,000 children aged between 6 weeks and 7 years, and the tetanus and diphtheria (Td) vaccine to nearly 166,000 children aged between 7 and 17 years.
Vaccination is also currently taking place among nearly 166,000 children in schools near the Rohingya camps and settlements, and a further two rounds of a diphtheria-containing vaccine are planned in the camps and surrounding areas at 1-month intervals.
Healthcare and Refugees
Mr Edouard Beigbeder, UNICEF’s Bangladesh Representative, commented: “Children are particularly vulnerable to diphtheria. Volunteers are making door-to-door visits in the Rohingya settlements to ensure all children receive vaccination. The massive influx within a very short time has heavily affected basic services in the settlement areas. They have no choice but to live in a very congested environment, which is impacting their health and quality of life. We are making continued efforts to improve conditions of the camps. At the same time, diphtheria vaccination is vital to reducing the risk of further outbreak.”
Provision of healthcare in the context of war, either in war zones or to civilians displaced by conflict, is a major contemporary issue, and one the EMJ discussed in a recent article.
James Coker, Reporter
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