Medical staff at disaster relief organisation Samaritan’s Purse are warning that the Rohingya refugee camps are facing the possibility of a severe outbreak of Diphtheria.
The life-threatening infection can cause difficulty with breathing and is most often airborne. Up to 10% of those infected are likely to lose their life, and infection rates in the Bangladesh camps are rising fast.
The World Health Organisation has reported that in November around 5 cases a day were being reported. This has rocketed to over 100 for some days in December. Of the suspected cases, 73% are under the age of 15 years and over 90% of deaths are children.
Bangladesh’s refugee population has risen rapidly, with nearly 600,000 people entering the country from neighbouring Myanmar. A majority of these are living in temporary accommodation with little access to proper healthcare and sanitation. Much of the population of the camps have little to no access to immunisation. Whilst many charities have access to the camps, a Diphtheria outbreak could strain them to breaking point.
Samaritan’s Purse, which currently partners with a hospital in the area, is preparing.
Elizabeth Quelch, part of the charity’s medical team, has recently returned from Rohingya camps.
“Approximately 24,000 children have been vaccinated against Diphtheria since December 12th, with 1077 problematic cases having been recently reported. We’re expecting the outbreak to get a lot more severe.”
Describing the conditions of the camps Quelch continued;
“It’s like nothing you’ve ever seen. There are temporary structures perilously placed on hills and open defecation running through the streets. Infection and disease threaten everyone and there are few places that they can turn to for help.”
Many charities and organisations have appeared in the camps, seeking ways to help; but this has also been causing problems.
“It’s a mad dash to help in an overwhelming situation” Dr Sean Campbell, Executive Director of Samaritan’s Purse said.
“When I visited the camps, I saw aid trucks narrowly missing children as they hurtled down the narrow tracks in the camps. Children have been brought to our hospital for injuries caused by traffic”.
“Everyone wants to help, which is an amazing situation. But sometimes this can be problematic. There are water sources being provided that are unsafe and this is only going to worsen any outbreak”.
Memorial Christian Hospital (MCH) is an established facility, constructed in 1966 by missionaries from Pakistan. Their expert staff have been performing daily surgeries on refugee patients sent to them by MSF (Doctors Without Borders), but the needs are greater than anyone can imagine.
“This is why we’ve partnered with MCH” Dr Campbell said.
“They are the experts in the region and we’re proud to be able to support the hospital.
Samaritan’s Purse recently supported the construction of two new wards in the Hospital and, in the camps, the Bangladesh Ministry of Health have approved our plan to construct a Diphtheria treatment centre.
Samaritan’s Purse aims to be supporting MCH for the long-run. A 6-month staffing plan is already being put in place and more staff will join the hospital over the next few weeks.
Dr Campbell shared his hope for the Rohingya population;
“I’m terrified about the devastation a Diphtheria outbreak could cause. I’ve visited dozens of refugee camps around the world and this one is the worst by far.
The Muslim Rohingya population deserve all the love and support we can muster”
“Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan shows us what can be achieved when you cross the road to help someone in need. We’re committed to serving the Rohingya and will continue to do so in Jesus’ name”
Notes to editors:
Samaritan’s Purse is an international disaster relief organisation led by Franklin Graham. Samaritan’s Purse works in more than 100 countries to provide aid to victims of war, disease, disaster, poverty, famine and persecution.
Samaritan’s Purse has partnered with Memorial Christian Hospital in Bangladesh, assisting with the construction of two new wards which will be fully equipped with modern medical equipment.
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