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Deadly 'Long-Lost Disease' Rages Through Rohingya Camps


Bangladeshi authorities vaccinated Rohingya refugees for cholera and measles but were surprised by the diphtheria outbreak.

UKHIA, Bangladesh -- In a makeshift bamboo clinic, small children struggle to draw breath through surgical masks, victims of a forgotten but deadly disease that has torn through the teeming Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh.


Diphtheria had been all but eradicated in Bangladesh until last year, when more than 650,000 Rohingya poured across the border fleeing a bloody military crackdown in neighbouring Myanmar.


Packed into an area meant for a much smaller number of refugees and with little sanitation or healthcare, the new arrivals provided fertile ground for the highly contagious respiratory disease to take hold.


It quickly spread through the camps, with the World Health Organization reporting more than 3,600 cases.


The outbreak has already claimed the lives of at least 30 refugees, mostly children, while a handful of Bangladeshis living near the camps have also contracted the disease.


Carla Pla, head nurse at the specialist diphtheria unit run by medical charity MSF (Doctors Without Borders), said children were arriving with "severe" symptoms.


"This is a very challenging situation, because everyday there are coming more children, and the challenge to get the vaccine is also something that is very difficult," she told AFP at the unit.


Nearly 600 refugees have been referred there since it opened in December, putting enormous pressure on doctors also struggle to treat rampant malnutrition, water-borne disease and other diseases in the camps.