Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Diphtheria breaks out in Cox’s Bazar Rohingya camps

  • Nurul Islam Hasib, bdnews24.com
    Published: 2017-12-06 20:34:20 BdST

bdnews24
A family of Rohingya refugees at the makeshift camp on Balukhali Hill in Cox’s Bazar’s Ukhia. Photo: mostafigur rahman

Diphtheria, eliminated from Bangladesh decades ago, has broken out among the Rohingyas in Cox’s Bazar refugee camps.

Officials have told bdnews24.com that they started treatment based on the ‘clinical symptoms’ as the government’s disease monitoring arm, IEDCR, has sent its team to the district.

Over 600,000 Myanmar nationals took shelter after the latest violence in Rakhine State started on Aug 25.

They do not have access to basic healthcare services in the state as Burmese authorities deny them citizenship.

“So far 70 patients have received treatment,” Sirajul Haque Khan, the chief coordinator of the Forcibly Displaced Myanmar Nationals Health Intervention Centre in Bangladesh, told bdnews24.com.

Khan, the immediate past health secretary, said they had devised plans to stop the transmission.

An official at a refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar said of the clinically confirmed cases, at least five died.

The bacterial disease, diphtheria, is highly infectious. It can pass on from person to person through respiratory droplets such as coughing and sneezing.

It can be treated by drugs and prevented by vaccine. Symptoms include a thick covering in the back of the throat.

It can lead to difficulty in breathing, heart failure, paralysis, and even death.

IEDCR Director Prof Meerjady Sabrina Flora told bdnews24.com they would confirm those clinically confirmed cases in the laboratory.

“But we have taken the preventive and treatment- related measures based on the clinical confirmation,” she said.

One of the coordinators of the Centre, Dr Mushtaq Hossain told bdnews24.com that WHO, UNICEF, MSF, IEDCR and the health ministry were working together to address the issue.

“We will go for mass vaccination,” he said.

Bangladesh has eliminated the disease through vaccination. Children get the vaccine in the first year of their birth.

But the new cases in Rohingya camps appear as a challenge as it can spread to local Bangladeshis. New doctors are not even familiar with the disease.

Khan, the chief coordinator, acknowledged the challenge and said the Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) diagnosed those cases and was treating the patients at their field hospital.

He said the government had taken three-pronged measures - assessment of the number of affected people, management of those who are already affected, and prevention through vaccination so that new cases do not occur.

“This disease is eliminated from Bangladesh. So I was told that many of our doctors are not familiar with the signs and symptoms. So it’s a new challenge.”

He said they were planning to open an isolation centre at Ukhia Upazilla Health Centre, if the number goes up.

Bangladesh earlier implemented mass vaccination for cholera, polio and measles in the Rohingya camps and among the local communities in that area.