Press Release: MedGlobal Deeply Concerned about First Coronavirus Cases in Rohingya Refugee Camps

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May 14, 2020

Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh – MedGlobal is deeply concerned following reports of the first diagnoses of COVID-19 in the Rohingya refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. The impact of a large-scale COVID-19 outbreak in the densely populated camps would be catastrophic for already vulnerable refugees and host communities. 

There are over 913,000 Rohingya refugees living in camps in Bangladesh on the Myanmar border, who already suffer from a lack of sanitation facilities and a shortage of soap, poor water quality, and lack of access to medical care. The camps are densely populated, with approximately 40,000 refugees per square kilometer. In such crowded conditions, social distancing is not feasible. 

According to the Health Sector, as of May 13 there are 120 patients confirmed to have COVID-19 in Cox’s Bazar district, including 6 health care workers and 3 health facility staff, though until today there had been no confirmed cases within the camps. As of May 13, there have only been 108 tests for Rohingya refugees conducted in the camps. A recent report from the Johns Hopkins University Center for Humanitarian Health predicted that a large-scale outbreak is highly likely after a single introduction of the virus into the camps. 

Dr. Zaher Sahloul, president and co-founder of MedGlobal, said, “Now that COVID-19 has entered the Rohingya refugee camps, we fear that it may spread at an alarming rate based on prediction models. An immediate response is needed from the international community to stop preventable deaths. These communities must not be forgotten.”

MedGlobal has been working in Cox’s Bazar since 2017, serving more than 102,000 Rohingya refugees and vulnerable members of the Bangladesh host community. MedGlobal runs a permanent clinic in the Kutupalong refugee camp and provides primary care, emergency care for children, and treatment for those with chronic illnesses. Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, MedGlobal has prioritized infection prevention and control, leading COVID-19 response training for field staff, developing emergency triage procedures and clinical management protocols, and launching a series of mental health webinars for health workers. Our clinic staff initiated health education sessions for patients on the topics of handwashing, social isolation, and identifying COVID-19 symptoms. 

“Rohingya refugees have faced ethnic cleansing, forced displacement, and overcrowded conditions in the world’s largest refugee settlement. MedGlobal urges all of our partners and supporters to stand with them now as they face a COVID-19 outbreak, and support them with critically needed medical resources,” said Dr. Hena Ibrahim, MedGlobal Executive Director.

MedGlobal is working with urgency to provide critically needed medical supplies to health workers and patients in the Cox’s Bazar camps, particularly personal protective equipment (PPE). Join us in supporting Rohingya refugees at this critical moment.

For media inquiries, contact MedGlobal’s Advocacy Advisor Kat Fallon at fallon@medglobal.org.

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