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Australian medical team to assess disease outbreak in Bangladesh

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The Australian Government is deploying a team of medical experts to Bangladesh to survey health needs following an outbreak of highly contagious diphtheria in camps accommodating Rohingya who have fled from Myanmar.

The deployment of the medical team follows a request for urgent assistance from the World Health Organization (WHO). Since November, more than 1,300 people, including 1,000 children, in the camps are thought to have contracted diphtheria, which can cause death from extreme swelling of the throat. 

The Australian Medical Assistance Team (AUSMAT) will be made up of specialists from the Northern Territory Department of Health, the National Critical Care and Trauma Response Centre based in Royal Darwin Hospital and Queensland Health. The team will assess the services currently being provided to affected communities and work with other international partners to determine what additional services may be required in order to contain disease outbreaks.

Funding for the team is being drawn from the $30 million in humanitarian assistance that the Australian Government has committed in response to the mass displacement of Rohingya since 25 August following an outbreak of violence in Rakhine State, Myanmar.

As part of this assistance, Australia has deployed humanitarian specialists who are helping the UN and other agencies deliver life-saving aid to those in need. This has included an Australian engineer who has designed and supervised the construction of a bridge to enable the World Food Program to truck food to a camp housing 100,000 people. Another specialist is overseeing the distribution of food to ensure vulnerable groups, such as children and people with disabilities, receive assistance.

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