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Charity fears outbreak of diphtheria among Rohingya refugees

22 December 2017

World Vision

In jeopardy: a Rohingya woman feeds her child in a refugee camp supported by the charity World Vision

In jeopardy: a Rohingya woman feeds her child in a refugee camp supported by the charity World Vision

ROHINGYA refugee camps are facing the possibility of a severe outbreak of diphtheria, a Christian aid agency has warned.

Samaritan’s Purse, an international disaster-relief organisation, has said that refugees from Myanmar in Bangladesh are under threat.

Before December, the World Health Organisation was logging five cases of diphtheria a day in the camps, with a total of 804 suspected cases before 12 December. The rate of infection has increased rapidly since then. Samaritan’s Purse reports that, on some days, more than 100 cases are now being reported.

Elizabeth Quelch, who is part of the charity’s medical team, reported: “Approximately 24,000 children have been vaccinated against diphtheria since 12 December, with 1077 problematic cases having been recently reported. We’re expecting the outbreak to get a lot more severe.”

The mortality rate for diphtheria is five-ten per cent, but can be as much as 20 per cent for young children or those over the age of 40.

More than 620,000 Rohingya have fled Myanmar in recent months, after violent repression by the country’s security forces (News, 6 October 2017). Myan­mar has said that the Rohingya are recent migrants from neighbouring Bangladesh and denies them the full rights of Burmese citizenship. Myanmar has denied reports of atrocities, but Médecins Sans Frontières has said that 6700 Rohingya Muslims were killed at the beginning of a crackdown by the Burmese military in August. In November the Prime Minister said the Rohingya were facing “destruction” and the actions of the country’s military look “like ethnic cleansing” (News, 17 November 2017).

The majority of the refugees are housed in temporary camps, with little access to proper health-care and sanitation; thus diseases can spread quickly.

Dr Sean Campbell, the executive director of Samaritan’s Purse, said that he was “terrified about the devastation a diphtheria outbreak could cause. . . I’ve visited dozens of refugee camps around the world and this one is the worst by far.”

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