Amid the lack of hygiene and poor sanitation in the Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh, an alleged diphtheria outbreak killed nine refugees and infected more than 700. The Bangladesh Department of Health Services said that of the 700 infected refugees, 104, most of them children, had contracted the disease in the last 24 hours.
"So far, nine people have died in an alleged diphtheria outbreak," said Meerzady Sabrina Flora, director of the Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research (IEDCR) of Bangladesh, as reported by Agence France-Presse ( AFP).
Health workers in Bangladesh said they had been surprised by the outbreak of the bacterial disease in the Rohingya refugee camps in southeastern Bangladesh. One of the biggest concerns in the camps is the poor sanitation and lack of hygiene facilities that have raised the growing fear of cholera, which spreads through dirty water and can kill if left untreated.
International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), which opened a field hospital near the camps in October, has treated numerous patients for acute diarrhea. So far, 67 cases of the highly contagious virus have been reported, but the Bangladeshi authorities insist that the situation is under control, with a massive vaccination campaign underway.
Authorities have established two isolation units in crowded refugee camps where many lack adequate accommodation and food and limited access to medical services.
Diphtheria is a highly contagious respiratory disease that can be fatal if left untreated, but has become increasingly rare in recent decades due to high vaccination rates.
Bangladesh authorities said they had prepared for outbreaks of other diseases in the camps, but not diphtheria, which had been almost eradicated in Bangladesh.
The government and UN agencies now vaccinate some 250,000 children under the age of seven who live in camps and temporary settlements near the border with Myanmar.
"We are moving quickly to control this diphtheria outbreak before it gets out of control," said D R. Navaratnasamy Paranietharan, representative of the World Health Organization in Bangladesh. "The vaccines will help protect every Rohingya child in these temporary settlements from being a victim of the deadly disease."
In one of the worst refugee crises in decades, Rohingya refugees continue to flee from Myanmar to Bangladesh despite the fact that both countries established one. Last month, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said the last week on the calendar to allow them to start going back to their homes. Some 20,000 Rohingyas fled Myanmar to Bangladesh in November, and at least 270 so far in December, which totals since the violence erupted on August 25 to 646,000, according to UNHCR and Leonard Doyle of the International Organization for Human Rights. Migration (OIM), as reported by Reuters.
Myanmar, with a Buddhist majority, has denied citizenship to the Rohingya minority since 1982 and excludes them from the 135 officially recognized ethnic groups, effectively making them stateless. They have long faced discrimination and persecution with many Buddhists in Myanmar calling them Bengalis and saying that they emigrated illegally from Bangladesh, even though they have lived in the country for generations.