Erin Taylor 267.250.8829 (M)
FAIRFIELD, Conn. (December 14, 2017)— Save the Children health workers are
on high alert for cases of the deadly disease diphtheria, which has so
far claimed the lives of at least 15 Rohingya who fled to
The preventable disease is no longer common
in the western world because of vaccinations.
There have recently been cases in Yemen, Indonesia and now in the camps
for over 628,000 Rohingya people forced to fleehuman rights atrocities in northern Rakhine
state in Myanmar.
“It will be a challenging December for
the humanitarian community here that is rallying to control the diphtheria
outbreak,” said Maria Tsolka, Save the Children's leading health specialist working
in Cox's Bazar.
“The entire humanitarian community is alert to
the crisis. We are coordinating closely together and working alongside the
Bangladesh Ministry of Health to ensure we reach everyone who needs treatment
and to contain the spread of the disease,” Tsolka added.
Save the Children runs a network of seven community
health posts in the camps and will soon open two more. Staffed by experienced
doctors and nurses, they see between 50 and 100 people a
day who present with a range of conditions such as skin disease and fever. They
also treat children for severe acute malnutrition and provide sexual and
reproductive health services to women and girls. Now they are screening
for diphtheria as well.
Diphtheria is transmitted from person-to-person
respiratory droplets, like coughing and sneezing. Poor hand hygiene contributes
to transmission too. It can be fatal in more than 10 percent of cases but this
can increase in overcrowded camps with limited access to health
services,” Tsolka said
In response to the health emergency, Save the
Children has begun the roll out of a home visit program to check on the
families and close contacts of diphtheria patients that had recently visited its
health posts and Doctors Without Borders (MSF) facilities. The aim is to
provide them with a seven-day course of oral antibiotics as a preventative
measure and to contain the transmission of the disease. Health staff will
immediately refer any suspected cases of
diphtheria for hospital care and treatment to an MSF dedicated facility.
Currently MSF is the only organization in Cox’s
Bazar that canadministertreatment for these patients, while
others, including Save the Children, are gearing up tosupport swiftidentification of suspected cases and
diagnoses to attempt to contain the spread of the disease.
Also this week, Save the Children will
begin the roll out of planned child vaccination programs through its health
posts in the camps. This includes vaccination against diphtheria among other
diseases. The international humanitarian organization will also vaccinate
almost 1,400 aid workers and volunteers currently working in different
programs. The vaccine will be provided by the Bangladesh Ministry of Health
with support from the World Health Organization and UNICEF.
"While we hoped there would not be an
outbreak of diphtheria, we quickly mobilized our Emergency Health Unit on the
ground here and trained our health staff to detect clinical signs of the
disease and to be familiar with the referrals process set by the World Health
Organization and agreed with the Ministry of Health of Bangladesh. The disease
is curable with anti-toxins and antibiotics if detected early and referred to
appropriate health services,” Tsolka said.
“We also trained stafffrom other parts of our response like
shelter and child protection to detect signs of the disease. This includes our
partner’s networks of teachers at Temporary Learning Spaces and Child
Friendly Spaces. In total, we have orientatedmore than 400 staff in the
past two days.
The vaccination of children under 7-years-old
started on December 12. The mass vaccination campaign for 7 to 15 year-olds
starts on December 17. This will be done at dedicated vaccinations points throughout
Save the Children Bangladesh Country Director
Mark Pierce said issues around water and sanitation must be urgently addressed,
and that mass vaccination campaigns as well as routine immunization programs
must be carried out among the camp population.
“The response to
this outbreak requires an urgent lift of funding to ensure we can contain it,
and save lives,” he said.
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