Bangladesh moves to protect Rohingya children from diphtheria

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COX’S BAZAR, Dec 12, 2017 (BSS) – A vaccination campaign against diphtheria and other preventable diseases was launched here today for all Rohingya children aged from 6 weeks to 6 years living in 12 camps and temporary settlements near the Myanmar border.

The Bangladesh government launched the campaign with the support of UNICEF, the World Health Organization and GAVI and the Vaccine Alliance, said a UNICEF press release here today.

Accelerated immunization will cover nearly 255000 children in Ukhiya and Teknaf Upzilas in Cox’s Bazar district while the government and health partners continue to increase supports for diphtheria treatment and prevention, the release added.

“Diphtheria usually appears among vulnerable populations that have not received routine vaccinations, such as the Rohingyas,” UNICEF Representative to Bangladesh Edouard Beigbeder said, adding that the outbreak shows a steep rise in cases, an indicator of the extreme vulnerability of children in the Rohingya camps and settlements.

Recent data from the WHO Early Warning Alert and Response System (EWARS) and M,decins Sans FrontiSres (MSF) show 722 probable diphtheria cases, including nine deaths, in the camps and makeshift settlements hosting the Rohingyas, between 12 November and 10 December, the release said.

Director General of Health Services Dr Abul Kalam Azad said the government of Bangladesh will do everything necessary to contain this outbreak.

“We thank WHO, UNICEF and other health partners for their swift response to the request of the government to combat this diphtheria outbreak, and for continuously supporting our efforts to provide essential health services for these vulnerable people,” he added.

According to the release, the children are being administered pentavalent vaccines (which protects against diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus, Haemophilus Influenzae, and hepatitis B), pneumococcal conjugate vaccines (PCV) and bivalent oral polio vaccine.

The Serum Institute of India has donated 300000 doses of pentavalent vaccines for use in the response, the release said.

In the next week, three rounds of tetanus diphtheria (Td) vaccines will be provided to Rohingya children aged from 7 to 15 years, and 10000 health and development workers in Rohingya settlements, the release added.

A total of 900000 doses of Td are arriving today in the country for this purpose.

“We are moving quickly to control this diphtheria outbreak before it spins out of control,” WHO Representative to Bangladesh Dr Navaratnasamy Paranietharan said, adding the vaccines will help protect every Rohingya child in these temporary settlements from falling prey to the deadly disease.

“Beyond vaccinations, we are helping health workers to clinically manage suspected cases, trace their contacts, and ensure sufficient supplies of medicines,” Dr Paranietharan added.

WHO is procuring 2000 doses of diphtheria anti-toxins to treat diphtheria patients. Nearly 345 doses were hand carried by WHO from Delhi to Cox’s Bazar, the release said.

WHO and UNICEF are working with communities to ensure that they are aware of the signs and symptoms of diphtheria, and that they can access treatment as quickly as possible.

Diphtheria is an infectious respiratory disease caused by a potent toxin produced by certain strains of the bacterium Corynebacterium diphtheriae.

It spreads through air droplets by coughing or sneezing. Risk factors include crowding, poor hygiene and lack of immunization.

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