DHAKA (THE DAILY STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - In a report published in The Daily Star on Mar 18, the World Health Organisation (WHO) spokesperson in Bangladesh warned that refugees are more at risk of infection from communicable diseases because they live in overcrowded camps and settlements.
This risk is evident in the refugee camps in Cox's Bazaar, which hosts around 1.1 million Rohingya refugees. In fact, Kutupalong alone is home to over 630,000 people and is considered to be the world's largest refugee camp.
This population density, which is often coupled with unsanitary conditions, should not be taken lightly now that we are faced with a global pandemic that has already claimed over 7,000 lives worldwide.
While the steps taken so far to protect the Rohingya population are commendable - such as restricting entry into the camps and mobilising Rohingya community leaders to spread awareness on basic hygiene - there is still more that can be done.
According to the authorities, aid workers (especially foreigners) are being discouraged to go to the camps, but given that coronavirus has most certainly infected Bangladeshis and we are still unaware of how far it has spread, it is imperative that law enforcement officials and locals working with camp authorities, who are constantly coming and going from the camps, be monitored as well.
Given that aid workers also play an important role in supporting the refugee community, these restrictions must be implemented in a balanced manner, especially to ensure that camp in-habitations are able to receive crucial healthcare related services.
The UNHCR has also said that coronavirus suspects at the refugee camps would be kept in temporary isolated areas until they are referred to pre-identified isolation units.
This is a very good initiative, if implemented properly - but how long will it take for the patient to be tested, given that the IEDCR in Dhaka is at present the only healthcare facility in the country that can carry out testing?
And if the patient is found to be infected with coronavirus, what steps will be taken then? In this worst-case scenario, the person in question must be allowed to leave the camps and receive proper health treatment in one of the medical facilities in Cox's Bazaar that have been prepared with isolation wards and the necessary medical supplies - all of which are not available within the refugee camps.
The camps themselves should also be equipped with more toilets and hand-washing facilities as soon as possible to ensure more sanitary conditions.
The coronavirus will not discriminate between refugee and citizen, and neither should we.
During these trying times, we must show our humanity and ensure that utmost precautions are taken to prevent an outbreak in the refugee camps, and that all refugees have access to basic health and sanitation facilities.
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