First COVID-19 case in Rohingya camp could potentially lead to an unprecedented humanitarian disaster, warns CARE

COX'S BAZAR, 14 MAY 2020 – The first COVID-19 case in the Rohingya camp of Cox’s Bazar could potentially lead to thousands of new infections; putting the world’s largest refugee camp on the brink of a humanitarian catastrophe. Today, one ethnic Rohingya individual has tested COVID-19 positive in Cox’s Bazar district in Bangladesh.

More than 850,000 ethnic Rohingya who fled from neighboring Myanmar now live in bamboo and tarpaulin shelters across 34 overcrowded camps in Teknaf and Ukhiya sub-districts in Cox’s Bazar. Poor living conditions and a lack of basic amenities make people’s lives more vulnerable, especially that of women and girls.

With the discovery of the first COVID-19 case, health needs are now immense for the refugees. Apart from PPE and sanitizers for frontline workers; handwashing and laundry soap are needed for the refugee community in large quantities while women and girls also require hygiene and dignity kits. Given the family roles and responsibilities of fetching water, washing and cooking, and taking care of unwell family members, women and girls are especially vulnerable and they particularly require health and Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) services. Moreover, mass awareness among Rohingya population on prevention, social distancing and identification of symptoms is required. In order to prevent more cases, a large number of isolation rooms inside the camps are urgently required as well.

"We are deeply concerned but sadly, not surprised. We have been vigilant since the onslaught of the outbreak in Bangladesh and took necessary measures to stop the outbreak and prepare the refugee and host communities accordingly. Now it is at our doorstep. The camps are overcrowded with inadequate hygiene and sanitary facilities, and frail health systems; and it calls for concerted efforts from all concerned to contain the spread including awareness generation, hygiene and sanitary facilities, increased testing, contact tracing, isolation, medical care and continuation of essential services. This confirmation of the first COVID-19 case is a stark reminder of how vulnerable we are, with almost 1 million people being at risk of infection. This is precisely the time to join forces to do everything possible to stop the spread and protect the people in Cox’s Bazar camps who have already suffered from unspeakable traumas. We urge the international community to provide generous financial support to NGOs working in Bangladesh and the government of Bangladesh to triumph over this crisis. The world can only be safe, when each one of us is safe."

– Deepmala Mahla, Asia Regional Director of CARE USA

"Given the first positive COVID-19 case in the camps, we are deeply concerned and feel this could have potential huge risks for others in the community as well as for all frontline workers. The cramped and overcrowded camps with unsanitary living conditions and poor basic health facilities are the potential quick triggers for the rapid spread of the infection. The camps have a 40,000 person per square km density, almost four times that of New York City. This has made our task to contain the spread even more challenging. We are stepping up our response in various ways. We are ensuring strict monitoring of entry and exit into and from the camps that we, as CARE Bangladesh, manage. We urge all those entering the camps must wear PPE (Personal Protective Equipment), need to be properly sanitized and symptoms monitored. Public messages are being broadcast to stop people from crowding common facilities. Community members are being asked to report any symptoms immediately either to the camp management or to government authorities. The health authorities are screening others in the camp who might have had contact with the COVID-19 infected person."

– Ram Das, Deputy Country Director, Humanitarian Response of CARE Bangladesh

"The population density in the camps, inadequate knowledge about prevention and limited access to medical facilities make the refugees especially vulnerable to COVID-19, this reported case may be a first but the risk of a quick spread of infections is high. Our staff members have worked with community volunteers to educate the Rohingya on appropriate preventative measures including social distancing, avoiding gatherings, staying at home, wearing a mask outside their houses and washing hands regularly. These measures need to be reinforced for all and coordination with community leaders and within women groups in the camps to encourage adherence will be critical. We have already established temporary isolation rooms in each of the three camps we manage. We plan to work with government authorities to scale up isolation services. It is extremely important to develop referral services and increased collaboration with government health services will help save lives. The Bangladesh government has been extremely supportive and has committed a significant part of its national resources in ensuring the well-being of the Rohingya. We urge the international community to provide more resources in financing, in kind and other ways to the Bangladesh Government and its UN and civil society partners. More support to Bangladesh who is generously hosting Rohingya refugees is urgently needed in order to step up services for both refugees and local communities at this critical stage of COVID-19 spread."

– Walter Mwasaa, Interim Country Director of CARE Bangladesh

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CARE has spokespeople available. For media inquiries, please contact:

Lama Alsafi
media@care.ca | 613-228-5641


About CARE Canada:

Founded in 1945 with the creation of the CARE Package®, CARE develops solutions alongside women and girls in developing countries to lift themselves, their families, and their communities out of poverty and out of crisis. CARE stands with women and girls around the world in economic empowerment. We bring women, girls, and their communities together to challenge inequality while facing issues like food insecurity, climate change, and emergency relief in times of crisis or disaster. CARE works in 100 countries around the world.

To learn more about CARE Canada, visit www.care.ca

First COVID-19 case in Rohingya camp could potentially lead to an unprecedented humanitarian disaster, warns CARE

"Our key priority for now is to support women and children, who are sleeping in open spaces"

CITY, DD MONTH YEAR – CARE International’s emergency responders have scaled up efforts to support affected communities with life-saving assistance in the hard-hit province of Cabo Delgado in Mozambique.

Thousands of families have had their houses and livelihoods destroyed by Cyclone Kenneth induced floods and are in dire need of food and shelter.

Daw Mohamed, humanitarian director for CARE International said:

“In collaboration with our partners, we have already released a stock of about 1,300 tarpaulins that were distributed to the families in need. CARE is also bringing in more supplies including family kits, tents, and hygiene supplies to ensure that the affected have the basics to survive.

“So far, we have only reached a fraction of those in need due to our limited budget and the challenges in reaching the affected by road as most of the countryside is flooded. Our key priority for now is to support women and children, who are sleeping in open spaces where they are vulnerable to different types of gender-based violence and harassment,” Mohamed explained.

Four days after Cyclone Kenneth made landfall, the northern parts of Mozambique continue to receive heavy rains and winds which are causing extensive flooding. Many houses - especially the traditional mud-and-pole huts that are common here - were swept away. Those remaining are falling apart as torrential rains continue to batter the region.

According to the UN and local authorities, more than 35,100 houses have been destroyed. According to authorities, 165,000 people are in need of humanitarian support; with aid agencies saying their response stock is fast depleting in the aftermath of the twin disasters.

Mohamed said:

"It's been raining hard for three days now. Our primary concern is the welfare and safety of women and girls. Many of the mothers we have met are overwhelmed as they try to fend for their children. Yesterday, I met and spoke to women who were feeding their children unripe lemons as there was nothing else to eat. Our teams also saw women who were cutting some wet grass in the flooded fields to use as roofing cover for their damaged houses.

“These additional responsibilities will very likely put women into positions of vulnerability and expose them to various types of gender-based violence and harassment. CARE wants to be able to support these women as soon as possible to avoid that,” he added.

Despite ongoing work, existing relief resources are not adequate for CARE to reach out to the most affected people.

“CARE urgently needs additional resources to tackle this situation that has affected thousands of people in northern Mozambique,” says Mohamed. “We are calling upon our donors for support to enable us to deal with this devastating situation.”

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CARE has spokespeople available. For media inquiries, please contact:

Lama Alsafi
media@care.ca | 613-228-5641

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About CARE Canada:

Founded in 1945 with the creation of the CARE Package®, CARE develops solutions alongside women and girls in developing countries to lift themselves, their families, and their communities out of poverty and out of crisis. CARE stands with women and girls around the world in economic empowerment. We bring women, girls, and their communities together to challenge inequality while facing issues like food insecurity, climate change, and emergency relief in times of crisis or disaster. CARE works in 100 countries around the world.

To learn more about CARE Canada, visit www.care.ca