Cox’s Bazar – From the outset of the COVID-19 health crisis in Bangladesh, humanitarian agencies in Cox's Bazar have worked around the clock to prepare to effectively respond to the outbreak in the district, which hosts one of the largest refugee settlements in the world.
Key to this enormous effort includes enhancing existing partnerships and seeking new collaborative opportunities to address the lack of technical expertise and strained human resources in an already complex refugee crisis.
In May of this year, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the United Kingdom’s Emergency Medical Team (UK EMT)--funded by the United Kingdom’s Foreign Commonwealth & Development Office—re-established joint health efforts to combat the spread of COVID-19 throughout the district. The effort is aimed at enhancing Infection Prevention and Control (IPC) measures while supporting case management and referral systems for both Rohingya and neighbouring Bangladeshi communities.
A history of collaboration between the two organizations in Cox’s Bazar goes back to 2017, when UK EMT professionals supported response efforts to a diphtheria outbreak in the Rohingya refugee camps. NGO UK-Med – funded by UK Aid and deployed under the UK EMT – is a global frontline agency in COVID-19 response efforts and humanitarian crises around the world.
Through the partnership, two existing health facilities have been upgraded, hundreds of health workers have been trained and three Severe Acute Respiratory Infection Isolation and Treatment Centres (SARI ITCs) were designed, constructed and equipped to provide dignified and efficient treatment to those infected with COVID-19. Health Outreach Teams were established to encourage healthy behaviour, strengthen communication with communities and promote the use health facilities (for COVID-19 and other essential health services).
“The joint efforts between IOM and UK EMT greatly benefit COVID-19 response efforts, especially for the most vulnerable in Cox’s Bazar. The support provided by UK EMT on capacity building, technical guidance and supervision of clinical teams enhances the quality of service provided to both host community and refugee populations,” stated Dr. Charles Erik Halder, a National Program Officer for IOM’s Emergency Preparedness & Response Programme in Cox’s Bazar.
The first UK EMT served in Cox’s Bazar from May to July 2020, while the second team of experts arrived in July 2020 and remain on the ground, working with IOM to enhance the quality of care in SARI ITCs, improve Risk Communication and Community Engagement (RCCE) and IPC initiatives, provide training and capacity-building for Health Workers and strengthen the local capacity for active case surveillance and home-based care.
Sarah Collis, Health Lead of UK EMT’s first team said of the partnership: “Working with IOM was an incredible experience for the UK EMT. We were quickly welcomed into the team which enabled us to get straight to work, sharing our technical knowledge and immediately driving the response forward.”
Collis added: “The relationship was open and collaborative from the beginning and it was clear that both teams were committed to ensuring the Rohingya and host populations had access to quality COVID-19 services in Cox's Bazaar. UK EMT also supported the development of trainings and guidelines at coordination level in areas such as palliative care and rehabilitation, working closely with WHO and supporting coherence and cooperation amongst partners.”
Through robust partnerships and continued support, IOM and the humanitarian community seek to maintain and expand upon concerted efforts to strengthen the community’s resilience to COVID-19 while supporting the overall humanitarian response.
COVID-19 in Cox’s Bazar
The first confirmed case of COVID-19 in Cox’s Bazar was found on March 23, 2020. As of 11 October 2020, 4,602 cases among the host community have been confirmed in the district. In the Rohingya refugee settlements, a total 276 COVID-19 cases have been found and eight deaths have been officially recorded. Of the 276 confirmed, 134 patients have recovered and 134 are isolated in health facilities within the camp.
The UK EMT is the front line of the UK government’s response to a humanitarian crisis overseas–funded by UK aid from the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO). It is a partnership made up of FCDO, health NGO UK-Med, NGO Humanity & Inclusion, the UK Fire and Rescue Service and Palladium. UK-Med’s role is to prepare and manage teams of clinicians who are ready to respond to health emergencies anywhere in the world at speed. The EMT network is driven by the World Health Organization (WHO) and ensures that teams that respond following disasters are well trained, self-sufficient and have the skills and equipment to respond effectively rather than imposing a burden on the national system.