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UN Migration Agency Moves to Halt Spread of Diphtheria in Bangladesh Refugee Camps

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IOM health staff assisting several Rohingya refugees in the Ukihya medical health complex in Cox's Bazar. © Muse Mohammed / UN Migration Agency (IOM) 2017

Cox’s Bazar - IOM, the UN Migration Agency has launched a major intervention to help halt the spread of diphtheria among Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh.

As a mass vaccination programme gets underway, IOM is working to provide vaccination support services and other services. These include community awareness raising; tracing of those who have come in contact with infected individuals to offer them preventative medical attention; and providing observation facilities for people recovering from the disease.

On 6 December, the World Health Organization warned diphtheria is now spreading rapidly among the population in the over-crowded refugee camps of Cox’s Bazar.

As of 11 December, around 449 probable cases had been identified with nine of these leading to deaths. However, it is believed the true numbers of those suffering from the disease may be considerably higher, as victims may confuse their symptoms with mumps, sore throats or other flu-like illnesses.

IOM, which has been providing medical services to refugees and the local community in Cox’s Bazar since 2013, is now also set to expand its own in-patient capacity to 120 beds and offer support to help other organisations working on the ground to increase their in-patient facilities.

As part of its broader health efforts, IOM is also taking on additional non-diphtheria-related cases, including measles cases, to allow specialists from other organizations to focus on the most severe diphtheria cases.

“IOM medical staff were already working hard to provide services in very challenging circumstances. The spread of diphtheria is putting further pressure on our medical teams. But along with our partners, a major effort is now underway to provide the necessary treatment for those who have already contracted the disease and halt its spread as soon as possible,” said IOM Emergency Health Officer Mariam Spijkerman-Abdelkerim.

IOM already expanded its medical services in Cox’s Bazar after 25 August, when a major upsurge in violence in Myanmar sent a flood of refugees fleeing over the border into Bangladesh. An estimated 646,000 people have arrived since then, bringing the total number of refugees living in camps and surrounding areas to over 858,000, with more people continuing to arrive every day.

IOM – which last week conducted its 100,000 medical consultation in 100 days – currently runs 23 health posts and one primary health care centre. It also supports nine government health facilities and works with over 350 community health workers – making it one of the largest health responders working on the ground.

The community health workers will play a key role in sharing information about diphtheria, vaccination, prevention and treatment with the community – and in ensuring people receive the support they need to access vital follow up medications and treatments.

For more information please contact:
Fiona MacGregor at IOM Cox’s Bazar, Tel: +8801733335221, Email: fmacgregor@iom.int Shirin Ahkter at IOM Dhaka, Tel: +880 2 55044811-13, Email: sakhter@iom.int

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