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Joint Humanitarian Community Press Release: One year on, Bangladesh has so far successfully limited the health impact of COVID-19 in Cox’s Bazar [EN/BN]

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Cox’s Bazar, Tuesday 9 March 2021 – One year since Bangladesh registered its first COVID-19 case, the country has so far successfully limited the health impact of COVID-19 in Cox’s Bazar while striving to sustain essential health services delivery under challenging circumstances.

“This past year was extraordinary in many ways. For one, the Health Sector led the emergency response with technically sound synergies and intersectional collaboration. On the frontlines,
Cox’s Bazar humanitarians, health care workers and volunteers have relentlessly shown their commitment to provide vital humanitarian and medical assistance, however not without significant personal sacrifices. Pushing to successfully change the course of the pandemic and help sustain important health outcomes, the Government of Bangladesh, donor countries and partners from around the world made sure that the Rohingya people were not left behind. Our deepest appreciation and heartfelt thanks to those supporting us and the Rohingya refugee crisis at this moment in time”, says the Head of the World Health Organization (WHO) Sub-Office in Cox’s Bazar, Dr Kai von Harbou.

Months before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Government of Bangladesh and humanitarian partners in Cox’s Bazar acted on all fronts to prepare for and respond to the outbreak in a very complex setting.

Since March 2020, under the coordination of the Health Sector and technical expertise of the WHO, aid agencies delivering health services in Cox’s Bazar collaborated to set up isolation and treatment facilities to meet the projected demand of COVID-19 positive cases in the camps and host communities which was expected to vastly overwhelm the existing capacity. The Severe Acute Respiratory Infection Isolation and Treatment Centers (SARI ITCs) can provide quality treatment for mild, moderate and severe cases of COVID-19. This includes the provision of oxygen through the support of WHO and donors with oxygen generators and oxygen concentrators to ensure access to essential, lifesaving oxygen therapy care for those affected.

WHO and agencies delivering health services have trained nearly 3,000 healthcare workers working in health facilities run by the Government and aid agencies on infection prevention and control and nearly 800 health care workers on clinical case management of COVID-19. The SARI ITCs also serve as a foundation for quality clinical care for COVID-19 patients among Rohingya refugees and host communities.

Furthermore, the first ever Intensive Care Unit (ICU) and High Dependency Unit (HDU) were established in the national Sadar Hospital in Cox’s Bazar in June 2020 with the support of the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), to respond to the needs of the most severe cases. This includes patients from local communities as well as Rohingya refugees, referred to the ICU through SARI ITCs.

Together, aid agencies working on communicating with the communities, Translators Without Borders, BBC Media Action, IOM, UNICEF, World Food Programme, UNHCR, WHO, and representatives from health and water sanitation organizations, , implemented a community outreach strategy to enable real-time exchange of information to prepare vulnerable groups for COVID-19 pandemic. That included utilizing all channels available to mitigate misinformation, disinformation and rumors, and promote health and well-being for all.

Rapid investigation and response teams in the camps have been responding to alerts within 24 hours and referring COVID-19 patients to SARI ITCs with the help of the Dispatch and Referral Unit, in an effort that has been instrumental to slowing down the spread of the virus.

To prioritize testing, which is key to breaking the chains of COVID-19 transmission, a sentinel surveillance system was rapidly established with all samples being processed at the Institute of epidemiology, Disease Control and Research Field Laboratory at Cox’s Bazar Medical College.
Additionally, under Expanded Community Based Surveillance, a network of almost 1,500 volunteer community health workers also contribute to identify individuals with symptoms associated with COVID-19. Symptomatic people are then referred to the nearest health facilities or directly to one of the 26 sample collection sites.

The continued provision of essential health services has remained a priority in Cox’s Bazar throughout the entire response. WHO together with UNFPA and other agencies delivering health services employ daily efforts to ensure that health services such as routine immunization, sexual and reproductive health, response to gender-based violence, and mental health and psychosocial support, are able to continue despite constraints imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Health facilities have put in place adjustments to minimize the risk of COVID-19 transmission at health facilities including adjustments to patient flows, distancing, mask wearing and a series of infection prevention and control measures.

As a result of the remarkable international cooperation and the urgency generated by the pandemic that has soared around the world, in less than a year, vaccines against Coronavirus have become the fastest ever to be developed, tested and approved. Humanitarian partners in Cox’s Bazar resolve to support the Government’s efforts to provide equitable access to safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines for all. Currently Rohingya refugees have been included in the COVID-19 national vaccination plan.

The vaccination of Rohingya refugees will follow the same prioritization criteria for Bangladeshi nationals. Based on the Epidemiological surveillance data, prioritization will be given to older age groups (≥ 40 years old) for Rohingya refugees, Rohingya frontline health workers, volunteers, teachers, among others.

ENDS/

For more information, please contact:

Tatiana Almeida, WHO, almeidat@who.int
Sulakshani Perera, ISCG, ext.rel@iscgcxb.org

The Health Sector led by Civil Surgeon in Cox’s Bazar, with technical support from WHO, coordinates the health humanitarian response to health emergencies and outbreaks and to ensure equitable access, coverage, quality and utilization of essential health services through primary, secondary and tertiary health facilities operated by various health partner. The sector identifies and addresses gaps, and provides relevant information to guide response, through various technical working groups, to ensure the health response follows global best practices and standards and provide technical assistance to government authorities on health-related matters at all levels and liaises with other sectors to ensure consistency in humanitarian response activities.

The Inter Sector Coordination Group (ISCG) is a sector-based coordination structure for the Rohingya refugee response in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. The ISCG provides a platform to ensure timely, coordinated, needs-based and evidence-driven humanitarian assistance to affected populations. The ISCG currently convenes ten active sectors; Education, Emergency telecommunications, Food Security, Health, Logistics, Nutrition, Protection, Shelter/NFIs, Site Management and Site Development, and WASH.