WRITTEN BY ERYN AUSTIN-BERGEN
Interview with a Rohingya Refugee (April 9, 2020)
Q: Have you heard about COVID-19?
A: Yes, I heard about COVID-19. It’s a disease now happening all over the world. I heard that if anyone has it then they might breath heavily and if they have a fever and are coughing, they need to go to hospital. If someone travelled from a different country, then we need to inform to proper authorities. Also, we know that we have to maintain proper hygiene and keep a safe distance of at least three feet from another person, wash food properly, do proper handwashing frequently.
Q: Is your community feeling panicked about the virus?
A: Before getting messages about COVID-19 from the health workers, people panicked so much hearing about all the cases found [in the world] and about the deaths caused by this virus, and what to do and how they will survive this. They were confused thinking about all these things. Now they are relieved after hearing the messages given by the health workers because they knew nothing about this before. At least now they know what to do when anyone has symptoms – we refer people if found with symptoms.
Q: How are people in your community dealing with physical distancing?
A: People in the community are taking it very positively. [A refugee] camp is not a very suitable place to keep that much distance, but people try to keep at least ½ foot distance. But some people say if they practice hygiene properly, they should be okay even if they go out. [They think] only if they have symptoms they need to stay at home and keep distance from people, otherwise they don’t have to maintain physical distance.
Q: Is there anything we should know?
A: When they first heard about China getting so many coronavirus cases, everyone panicked, because there’s no clinic with that kind of facility here [to treat COVID-19]. Then recently we assured them there’s a FH clinic nearby where you can go if you have this kind of symptoms. This clinic is only to treat people with [COVID-19] symptoms. If needed, they might keep the person isolated for a while. And everyone was okay with that.
Refugees are among the most vulnerable demographic in the world when it comes to infectious diseases. They are often crammed into sub-par housing in overcrowded camps where their makeshift homes lack proper ventilation, running water, and sanitation. Access to medical services is limited and nutritious food is scarce. It’s the perfect environment for a storm like COVID-19 to wreak destruction.
How FH is Stopping the Spread of COVID-19 in Cox’s Bazar
The Rohingya refugee settlement in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh is the largest concentration of refugees in the world with over 800,000 people and they are extremely vulnerable to COVID-19.
On March 11, the World Health Organization declared the spread of the novel coronavirus a pandemic. FH is not new to responding to such public health emergencies or the secondary effects of similar disasters. Our current presence in Cox’s Bazar has positioned us to respond swiftly and effectively to help save lives.
|Patients are now required to follow physical distancing policies |
when seeking treatment at the existing health centres.
Together with our partner, Medical Teams International (MTI), FH operates six healthcare facilities in the central and most densely populated area of the Kutupalong Rohingya refugee mega camp in Cox’s Bazar. Right now, we are:
1. Prioritizing and strengthening those facilities to cope with an increased caseload
2. Improving infection prevention and control
3. And expanding capacity specifically for isolation and treatment of patients who contract COVID-19.
The government of Bangladesh has taken aggressive action to slow the spread of the virus, including a nationwide lockdown that is expected to last beyond April 25. Among other restrictions this means banks are only open for two hours a day, all travel between districts is banned, and there is a curfew from 6PM to 6AM every night enforced by the military.
While these restrictions on the movement of people and goods has made it difficult to get medical supplies like personal protective equipment (PPE) into the camp, FH staff are persevering and making progress. In all our healthcare facilities, a screening system is being developed to quickly identify those who may be sick and temporary isolation rooms set up.
|Construction has begun on a 50-bed facility in the Rohingya refugee camp.|
FH is in the process of constructing a brand new, dedicated COVID-19 clinic and transforming one of our existing health posts with 50 beds into a treatment centre for the virus. In order to staff the new facility and ramp up services in existing facilities, FH is recruiting 90 additional local staff and volunteers.
FH and MTI Community Health Workers (CHW) and Community Psychosocial Workers (CPW) are on the frontlines of the fight against the spread of this virus in the camp. They’re being trained to prevent, recognize, and treat COVID-19 and are actively equipping families in refugee communities to do the same. They, themselves, are practicing social distancing and regular handwashing to set an example and keep the people safe as they move about the camp. These messages and practices not only save lives but also dispel panic, fear, and stigma.
During this time of crisis, FH believes it is critical to also maintain the quality of our regular health services. For example, pregnant women continue to be encouraged and supported to give birth in a FH/MTI health clinic rather than at home. In March, we saw 47 safe deliveries attended by skilled health workers in our facilities – the highest number since last year! In addition to COVID-19 preparations, cyclone and monsoon season are upon us requiring preparedness action and refresher training on mobile medical teams. Unfortunately, getting hold of emergency food and protective gear to respond to the upcoming storms has been hampered by the government’s policies against the spread of COVID-19.
Regardless of any obstacles, however, there are still over 800,000 men, women, and children living as refugees in the Cox’s Bazar who have the potential to be deeply and disproportionately affected by this global pandemic. FH is committed to doing everything in our power, together with our donors, partners, and staff on the ground, to prevent a health catastrophe in the Kutupalong mega camp. Our staff, especially, are motivated and working hard. They understand the risk of exposure, but remain fully committed to supporting the Rohingya in such a desperate situation. And we persist in looking to the future. COVID-19 will pass, and after it does, there will be new and heightened educational, social, economic, and political challenges for the Rohingya to overcome. Early recovery programs must be in place before that second wave strikes.