WHO preparedness underway to prevent epidemic in Rohingya camps


By Tanzim Anwar

DHAKA, March 29, 2018 (BSS) – The World Health Organisation (WHO) is set to launch a massive vaccination campaign in Rohingya camps and in their neighbourhooods fearing the upcoming monsoon could trigger an epidemic there worsening the crisis, its regional director said.

“For us it (monsoon) is a great worry,” WHO’s Regional Director for South- East Asia Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh told BSS in an interview, a day after she visited the improvised and crowded Rohingya camps in Cox’s Bazar bordering Myanmar’s Rakhine State.

She said WHO planned to start a fourth round of vaccination campaign also covering the host community around the Rohingya camps to prevent the possible outbreak of cholera epidemics.

The WHO regional chief particularly expressed concerns about the poor sanitation system at the scene saying “for now, it is manageable, but when rain starts sanitation will be a big challenge”.

Khetrapal Singh said three rounds of diphtheria, measles and cholera vaccines were administered in Rohingya camps as “this (vaccination), I thought is very useful, because the greatest worry is of course monsoon”.

“We will go for another round of vaccination after the fourth one and we have enough stock of vaccine at the camps . . . WHO has assessed the risk and procured the vaccine,” she said.

She said the situation prompted her organisation to go for repeated rounds of vaccination so no one was left out and exposed to breakout of water born diseases as WHO currently gave highest level priority under its World Health Emergency (WHE) programme to address the Rohingyas health concerns.

But the WHO regional chief expressed concerns about the poor sanitation system at the camp scene saying “for now, it is manageable, but when rain starts sanitation will be a big challenge”.

She said during the every rounds of vaccination they covered the host community in the neighbourhood and “whenever we will go for vaccination next time we will cover the entire area as well”.

Khetrapal Singh said WHO launched recently a second appeal for more donor supports for Rohingyas ahead of monsoon, fearing the tropical season to expose the forcibly displaced Myanmar population in Bangladesh to intensified health risks.

“Help (however) is coming, sentiment of help is there in Geneva,” she said referring to the prospects of donor response to the appeal analyzed in WHO headquarters in the Swiss city.

The regional chief of World Health Organisaiton for the region (WHO-SEARO) is in Bangladesh on a four-day visit to witness the crisis involving the Myanmar’s ethnic population who fled their home to evade military atrocities.

The UN called the Myanmar military actions “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing” and rights groups described as genocide.

Khetrapal Singh yesterday called on Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and held a meeting with representatives of donor agencies in Dhaka on resource mobilization as part of health care preparation on the face of impending dangers to be faced by the Rohingyas.

Currently, she said, WHO was spending US$1million every month to extend health care supports to Rhingyas but the global health body was prepared to enhance the amount if the situation deserved.

The WHO official, however, expressed concerns about continued Rohingya influx saying “they are still coming. It has not stopped, it’s still going on”.

She highly lauded Bangladesh government role in handling the crisis offering refuge to over one million Rohingyas on humanitarian grounds.

“Bangladesh government is doing a lot, it’s not easy. There are over a million people (Rohingya) . . . its like (the entire population of) another country,” the WHO official said.

Asked for comments about Bangladesh’s repeated call seeking sustained international pressure on Myanmar to stop atrocities and return the Rohingyas, she said the WHO generally “doesn’t intervene internal or regional politics”.

But, she said, if required, WHO could join the campaign from the UN platform along with other agencies.

The Rohingya issue required Bangladesh to engage, among other resources, some 28,000 manpower to work round-the-clock for their management and services.

An Indian national Khetrapal Singh, became the first woman to assume the office of WHO Regional Director for South-East Asia on 1 February 2014.