From the outset of the COVID-19 health crisis in Bangladesh, humanitarian actors in the Cox's Bazar district have worked incessantly to prepare the district, which hosts one of the largest refugee settlements in the world, for the arrival of an outbreak.
Key to the renewed efforts of the humanitarian health response is the repurposing and construction of dedicated health facilities, particularly Severe Acute Respiratory Infection Isolation and Treatment Centers (SARI ITC) - equipped to properly and with dignity treat those infected with COVID-19. Over the last week, the International Organization for Migration (IOM), in collaboration with the office of the Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commissioner (RRRC), inaugurated two new SARI ITCs for host community members and refugees in both Teknaf and Ukhia upazilas. Of the two new specialized COVID-19 healthcare facilities, 47 SARI ITC beds are currently available, and capacity will increase to a total of 110 beds as facilities ramp up operations in July.
The two centers contribute to IOM's comprehensive humanitarian effort in the district and will soon be complemented by a 120-bed SARI ITC in Camp 20E inside the Kutupalong camp. "The opening of 47 SARI ITC beds is only a small visible part of the larger planned effort for the 250-bed capacity SARI ITC - planned by the Government of Bangladesh and the Health Sector. In addition to ITCs, IOM is contributing in other ways including contact tracing, home-based care referral and risk communication in the community.
We believe that together we can try to contain COVID-19, reduce suffering and prevent loss of life among the communities that we serve," said Dr. Samir Howlader, for IOM Emergency Health Programme in Cox's Bazar. To date, in addition to the aforementioned SARI ITCs, IOM's Migrant Health Division (MHD) has upgraded two existing primary health care facilities in Cox's Bazar to do sentinel testing and temporarily isolate suspected patients to organize further referrals. In addition, IOM continues to coordinate with the Directorate General of Health Services, Civil Surgeon Office and the World Bank to support government isolation centres at Chakaria and Ramu upazilas in Cox's Bazar. Strengthening and upgrading existing health services is one of IOM's top priorities to support the Government of Bangladesh and limit the impact of COVID-19 in Cox's Bazar - however - monsoon response, protection services and livelihoods efforts must go on.
As the humanitarian community is now faced with a crisis within a crisis, strong partnerships and a comprehensive response effort are critical to reducing vulnerabilities within the district. As of June 27, 47 cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed in the Rohingya settlements. There are over 133,978 confirmed cases in Bangladesh, including 1,695 confirmed COVID-19 related deaths in the country according to Government of Bangladesh statistics.
The humanitarian community remains engaged in a multifaceted response to contain the spread of COVID-19 while additional resources and support are provided to doctors and health workers at health facilities within the Rohingya refugee camps and host communities of the district. Together with partners, IOM aims to expand support and alleviate the burden faced by vulnerable populations to COVID-19 across the district. Additional IOM Health Support in Cox's Bazar District:
IOM has extended support to Cox's Bazar Sadar Hospital with 10 Medical Officers, one Radiologist, one Radiographer, one Sanitation Officer and 15 Cleaners - and will supply PPE for health care providers.
IOM is supporting the expansion of bed capacity and quality improvement of services in SARI ITCs in Ramu and Chakoria under the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare of Bangladesh.
Resource support is being provided at upazila health complexes in the district, including Ukhiya and Teknaf. IOM is leading an ambulance dispatch and referral unit to coordinate and properly manage COVID-19 patients and contacts. Seven dedicated ambulances have been assigned to support the referral of COVID-19 cases.
Through 24-hour hotlines and Interactive Voice Response (IVR) technology, IOM continues to respond despite operational challenges, providing life-saving information while dispelling harmful rumours and misinformation concerning COVID-19.
IOM is continuing essential primary health care services at 35 primary care facilities. A 93-unit quarantine centre large enough to accommodate 465 individuals is nearing completion. Additionally, 50 shelters have been activated with the capacity of quarantining 250 contacts.