WHO: Thousands of lives saved, but Rohingyas still continue to be vulnerable

In the past year concerted efforts by the Bangladesh Government, WHO and health partners have helped save thousands of lives, and prevented and rapidly curtailed deadly disease outbreaks among the nearly one million Rohingya refugees. Despite these efforts they remain vulnerable even today with their evolving health needs, and severe funding crunch threatening continuity of life saving health services in their camps

Image courtesy: Wiki Commons
Image courtesy: Wiki Commons

Around a year ago, nearly 700,000 Rohingyas, arrived in Bangladesh at the beginning of August 25.  It was the largest ever population influx over such a short span of time.

Women, children and the elderly arrived with injuries, low immunisation coverage, high rates of malnutrition, in need of reproductive health care and psycho-social support, and at risk of deadly disease outbreaks.

Deadly diseases such as cholera have been prevented, and measles and diphtheria curtailed rapidly with quick roll-out and scale-up of health services and mass vaccination campaigns.

“It is remarkable that not only has the mortality rate among the Rohingyas remained lower than expected in an emergency of such a scale, it has also reduced significantly in the last six months”, said Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, Regional Director, WHO South-East Asia.

Four million doses of vaccines against cholera, polio, measles and rubella and diphtheria and tetanus have been administered to children, adolescents and adults through multiple mass vaccination campaigns, preventing major disease outbreaks and saving thousands of lives.

Childhood immunisation has been established with 94 sites delivering lifesaving vaccines to children across the Rohingya camps.

WHO helped establish and strengthen disease surveillance to enable early detection and timely response to outbreaks, as the Rohingyas settled in crowded camps with suboptimal water and sanitation conditions, prone to water and vector borne diseases such as cholera, polio, measles, malaria, chikungunya etc.

At least 152 health facilities covering 98% of the population are now implementing disease surveillance through the Early Warning Alert and Response System.

Despite these efforts, challenges remain. Floods and landslides in the on-going monsoon season continue to displace people and affect the functioning of health facilities.

The Rohingya population is reluctant to access sexual and reproductive health services, and as a result 70% of births are still taking place outside of health facilities.

The biggest challenge is the need to further scale up services to meet the complex, evolving and long term health needs of this highly vulnerable population amidst a funding shortfall that also threatens to undo the gains and progress made so far.