The government of Bangladesh and aid agencies have started vaccinating Rohingya refugees against coronavirus as a surge in cases raises health concerns in the sprawling, cramped camps where more than one million people who fled Myanmar are sheltering.
The highly transmissible Delta variant is driving an infection surge across Bangladesh, with about 20,000 infections and 200 deaths recorded so far in Cox’s Bazar district, the southern region bordering Myanmar where the 34 refugee camps are located.
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said a national positivity rate of about 30 percent indicates the spread of COVID-19 is much higher, especially given the sheer number of people living in these camps.
Vaccines in 34 camps
The government’s Civil Surgeon’s office in Cox’s Bazar and aid agencies began the vaccination campaign on Tuesday across 34 camps alongside Bangladesh’s national vaccination effort.
About 500 Bangladesh Red Crescent staff and volunteers joined the health workers for the campaign in collaboration with the UN refugee agency, according to a statement from the international body.
Rohingya community leaders, front line healthcare volunteers in the camps, and Rohingya older than 55 are in the first group to be vaccinated.
More than 65,000 of the nearly 900,000 refugees will be vaccinated in the first cohort, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees said in an email to The Associated Press news agency.
Bangladesh has reported more than 1.3 million infections, including 22,897 deaths from COVID-19 since the pandemic began.
More than 700,000 Rohingya fled Buddhist-majority Myanmar in 2017 as a harsh military crackdown was waged against the ethnic group following an attack by rebels.
Other Rohingya have lived in refugee camps in Bangladesh following earlier waves of persecution.
The 2017 crackdown included rapes, killings and the torching of thousands of homes, and was termed as ethnic cleansing by global rights groups and the United Nations.
While Bangladesh and Myanmar have sought to arrange repatriations, the Rohingya are too fearful to return home.