Injury and illness on the rise in overcrowded Rohingya refugee camps

Injury and illness on the rise in overcrowded Rohingya refugee camps

myanmar habibullah shot in foot
18-year-old Habibullah was shot in his foot by helicopters while trying to escape. (Photo: Shushan Lam) 

COX’S BAZAR: A young man rests in a makeshift recovery ward, looking at his stitched up foot which now has two missing toes. He was hit by bullets that sprayed down from helicopters while fleeing from his village in South Maungdaw, Myanmar.

In the same tent, a boy not more than ten years old stares blankly into space with burns and cuts on his forehead and body. Another child rests behind him with stitches on her nose. She took a bullet to her face but miraculously made it across into Bangladesh alive.

In this Cox’s Bazar hospital, about 40 to 50 Rohingya refugees are lucky to be receiving the treatment they need for now, but much uncertainty lies ahead for them once they get discharged and make their way into refugee camps where medical aid is limited.

overcrowded refugee camps
Camps are severely overcrowded. (Photo: Shushan Lam)

Already, camps are severely overcrowded. The United Nations (UN) estimates that there are now more than 400,000 Rohingya refugees who have fled to Bangladesh in this latest wave of migration. It began after militants - acting in the name of persecuted Rohingyas - attacked police posts in Maungdaw, sparking a fierce response from Myanmar security forces as well as a string of arson attacks.


Inside the new refugee camps, many are sick or injured from the treacherous journey across the border and aid groups are concerned about health conditions with little or no medical aid available.

“In these types of conditions, we are worried about communicable diseases which can rapidly spread when people are living in cramped conditions without adequate water and sanitation,” said Dr Patrick Duigan, a regional medical specialist for migration health at the International Organisation for Migration (IOM).

It has been reported that medical workers have found 16 cases of children with polio – a highly contagious disease which is contracted through fecal-oral transmission.

refugee camp father does not know where his family is
This father was separated from the rest of his family while trying to get help for his daughter who was injured. He does not know where they are now. (Photo: Shushan Lam)

There are also reports of four measles cases and one HIV-positive patient, causing alarm among the local community whom the refugees live amongst.

Dr Duigan said aid groups rolled out an immunisation campaign on Saturday (Sep 16) that aims to vaccinate 150,000 children in the next seven days.

“But there's also a lot more that needs to be done in terms of providing water, sanitation, improving shelter conditions and ensuring early warning surveillance for these diseases," he said.


Apart from diseases, injuries are commonplace in the chaotic camps, especially when children play around the busy roads. 

boy hurt in rohingya refugee camp
A boy was hurt in an overcrowded refugee camp while playing by the side of the road. (Photo: Shushan Lam)

Hordes of independent aid group trucks fill the narrow roads every day while volunteers throw clothes, food, water and sometimes even money onto the roads.

refugee camp
Independent aid trucks toss out items onto the ground leaving people to fight for what they can get their hands on. (Photo: Shushan Lam)

Without any crowd control, it becomes a situation of mayhem as people push each other to get to the front of the trucks. Three people were killed on Saturday in a stampede when supplies were being distributed in this haphazard fashion. 

refugee on hospital bed
People seeking treatment for various injuries sustained when their villages were under attack. (Photo: Shushan Lam)

refugee on hospital bed after stepping on landmine
Sabekunnahar, 50, stepped on a landmine and had flesh hanging off her bones when she arrived at the border. She was rushed to a hospital immediately. (Photo: Shushan Lam)

In some refugee camps, the closest thing to a medical facility are makeshift medicine distribution tents that are set up by local volunteers. At one of these tents, Ms Hamidah Khatun, 30, was hoping to get help for her child.

“Yesterday when they were giving out aid, everyone got very excited. In the chaos, my daughter fell and broke her nose,” she said.

refugee camp not equipped for medical needs
The medicine booth was not equipped to treat Hasnia Khatun's broken arm. (Photo: Shushan Lam)

Another lady, Hasina Khatun, 25, showed up to the medicine distribution point with a broken arm.

"When we were running from the military, we had to climb through the mountains. I fell down on my elbow and now I can't bend it. I’m in so much pain. I heard from someone that there was a medical camp so I came here,” she said.

But there was nothing much volunteers at the medicine distribution point could do for her nor her daughter. They left with a bottle of Dettol, electrolytes and various types of cough and flu medication - the standard aid pack that everyone else receives.

These medical tents are only equipped to treat minor illnesses like the coughs, colds, diarrhoea, malnutrition and skin diseases – illnesses that are common in refugee camps.

refugee camp basic meds
Medicine distribution points are stocked with basic medication for coughs and colds. (Photo: Shushan Lam)

Still, people come each day with all sorts of ailments.

"It's piercing hot and I'm having a fever. I’m just begging for food everyday," 35-year-old Ayesha Khatun shared.

“At first we thought that supplies of four to five days will be enough. But after seeing the situation, we decided to be here for as long as it’s needed,” said Dr Navid Mostaque, a volunteer at the booth.

Then there are those who fly under the radar. One of them is Ms Setera Begum, 25, who said she was raped by more than 10 military personnel after they tortured her husband and took him away two weeks ago in their home in Maungdaw.

She has not sought help because she feels too embarrassed to let male doctors examine her so she suffers in silence. “When I go to the toilet, I feel like I'm delivering a child. It’s that painful. My vagina is totally damaged,” she said.

Another woman pulled aside a Channel NewsAsia reporter and revealed a severe skin condition on her breasts. But like Ms Setera, she was too embarrassed to let the doctors check her.

“There's an urgent need to have mobile clinics and fixed health posts to provide primary health care and for referral systems to make sure that people who need extra care can get to hospitals,” said Dr Duigan.

“Setting up services for maternal and child health, injuries and emergencies are certainly key and there's going to be a huge demand to scale up that amount of services in a very short amount of time,” he said.

Source: CNA/aa