Bangladesh rolls out Covid vaccination campaign to almost 1 million Rohingya refugees in cramped camps

The Bangladesh government has begun working in concert with aid workers on a mass vaccination campaign to provide Covid inoculations to nearly one million Rohingya refugees living in overcrowded camps.

On Tuesday, the government in the southeastern Cox’s Bazar district began working with some 500 Bangladesh Red Crescent staff, volunteers and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to roll out the Covid vaccine drive across 34 camps.

In a statement, the head of Bangladesh’s Red Crescent Society in Cox’s Bazar, M.A. Halim, said the pandemic was “inflicting a terrible toll on every aspect of people’s lives and has been compounded by recent floods and fires that have swept through the camps. Vaccinating is more important than ever to prevent illness and more loss of life”.

The inoculation scheme will be conducted in a phased approach: Rohingya over the age of 55, healthcare volunteers and community leaders who account for some 48,000 of the almost 900,000 people in the settlements are to be vaccinated first.

The Delta variant – first discovered in neighboring India – is highly contagious and has been plaguing Cox’s Bazar. According to the statement, around 20,000 coronavirus cases have been reported in the district, including 200 fatalities.

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The move to vaccinate the Rohingya Muslims is a response to the refugees’ confined and unsanitary living conditions, which create a breeding ground for infections. Hrusikesh Harichandan, who runs the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies’ Cox’s Bazar sub-office, said that “vaccinations are vital for families to live with dignity… most still have limited access to water and sanitation facilities, escalating risks from COVID-19.”

Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims have fled Myanmar after facing religious and ethnic persecution by the country’s military, with the majority seeking refuge in Bangladesh. The United Nations’ International Court of Justice ordered Myanmar in January 2020 to protect its Rohingya population from acts of genocide.

Bangladesh has reported over 1.3 million coronavirus cases since the beginning of the pandemic, with 22,897 people succumbing to the virus. Overall vaccination rates remain low in the country, as less than 3% of the population in Bangladesh are fully inoculated against Covid.

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