12 Jun 2024, 20:33

20pc of Rohingyas test positive for hepatitis C in Cox’s Bazar

DHAKA, June 12, 2024 (BSS) - Almost 20 percent of the Rohingyas tested in the Cox's Bazar camps in Bangladesh have an active hepatitis C infection, a study carried out by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) indicates.

A blood-borne virus, hepatitis C is a disease that can remain dormant for a long time in those infected. If untreated, it can attack the liver and lead to serious or even fatal complications, usually cirrhosis or liver cancer, with an increased risk of developing several conditions including diabetes, depression and heavy fatigue, a press release said today. 

In the camps, people have very limited diagnostic and treatment options. MSF is calling for a joint humanitarian effort to combat the disease among this stateless population already deprived of basic rights and heavily dependent on aid for survival.

Faced with an influx of hepatitis C patients in the Cox’s Bazar camps over the last few years, Epicentre, MSF's epidemiology and research centre, carried out a survey of 680 households in seven camps between May and June 2023. 

The results showed that almost a third of the adults in the camps have been exposed to hepatitis C infection at some point in their lives. Of these, almost 20 per cent have an active hepatitis C infection.

“As one of the most persecuted ethnic minorities in the world, the Rohingya population is paying the price for decades of lack of access to healthcare and to safe medical practices in their country of origin,” Sophie Baylac, MSF head of mission in Bangladesh said.

The use of healthcare equipment that has not been disinfected, such as syringes, which are widely used in alternative healthcare practices within the Rohingya community, could explain the potential ongoing transmission and the high prevalence of hepatitis C among the population living in the overcrowded camps", Sophie Baylac explained. 

Extrapolating the results of this study to all the camps would suggest that about one in five adults is currently living with a hepatitis C infection – totaling an estimated 86,000 individuals – and requiring treatment to be cured.

“Our teams have to turn away hepatitis C patients every day, because the need for care exceeds the capacity of our organisation alone. There are barely any other available and affordable alternatives for these patients outside our clinics in the camps. This is a dead end for a stateless population deprived of the most basic rights, already facing dead ends in all areas of their daily lives," Sophie Baylac continued. 

Access to diagnosis and treatment is inadequate in many low- and middle-income countries, making this disease a potential public health threat. Yet, direct-acting antiviral drugs can cure over 95 per cent of those infected. In the overcrowded Rohingya camps of Cox's Bazar, access to diagnosis and treatment of hepatitis C virus is almost non-existent. MSF has been the sole provider of hepatitis C care there for four years. Yet the need for treatment is extremely high.  

Rohingyas are not legally allowed to work or leave the camps. For those we cannot treat, paying for expensive diagnostic tests and drugs or obtaining appropriate care outside the camps is out of their reach, she added.

“Most Rohingyas simply cannot be cured and resort to alternative methods of care, which are not effective and not without risks to their health,” said Sophie Baylac. 

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