Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, May 14, 2020 — Today, Kutupalong refugee settlement in Bangladesh – the world’s largest refugee camp – saw its first confirmed case of COVID-19, exposing already extremely vulnerable Rohingya refugees and local Bangladeshis to the deadly virus. With more than 855,000 refugees and 444,000 locals living in and around the camps, Cox’s Bazar is extremely overcrowded, and refugees are living in cramped conditions ripe for the spread of the virus. The IRC has been training healthcare workers and staff on infection prevention and control and setting up isolation wards, but we are calling for a rapid scale up of funding to help mitigate and respond to the spread of the disease within the camp.
Manish Agrawal, Bangladesh Country Director at the IRC, says,
“Health facilities are already crowded and overwhelmed, without the sufficient equipment, health staff or physical space necessary to treat cases. The population shares water and hygiene facilities such as toilets, bathing facilities and water points, resulting in long queues and unavoidable unsanitary conditions. There’s just not enough soap and water nor space for them to follow proper guidance to protect themselves from the disease. Food distributions and markets are also crowded making social distancing a major challenge.
“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. 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. More than 30,000 refugees in Cox’s Bazar are older than 60, already have a higher mortality rate and are at greater risk.
“Internet and mobile phone restrictions in the camp have led to a lack of sufficient and accurate information about the virus and how to protect yourself from disease spread. These restrictions also impact the ability of agencies to respond swiftly in case of a reported case in the camps. Our teams on the ground are providing accurate details in local languages to our clients to combat the spread of misinformation, operating health clinics, and screening patients for symptoms. IRC health staff have already been treating COVID-19 patients within the host community. Now, we are ready to help our refugee clients survive this terrible disease. ”
The IRC is scaling up our health response in Cox’s Bazar to respond to COVID-19 and mitigate the spread of the disease and is calling for an increase in funding from major donors to help us save lives. We are also continuing our critical primary health and reproductive health care services and providing gender-based violence case management to survivors of violence.
The IRC has launched a US $30 million appeal to help us mitigate the spread of coronavirus among the world’s most vulnerable populations. We are working across three key areas: to mitigate and respond to the spread of coronavirus within vulnerable communities; protect IRC staff; and ensure the continuation of our life-saving programming as much as possible across more than 40 countries worldwide.