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Rohingya Refugees Under Health Crisis

The fate of the Rohingya refugees in India and Bangladesh depends on the unfolding of an intricately woven web of geopolitics, human rights and the threat perception to national security. While navigating this web, some existential issues are often relegated to the sidelines.

The emergency medical needs and the wellbeing of refugees are critical issues that must be addressed. Furthermore, the health and living conditions of the displaced migrants becomes a priority when considering the high risk of a public health disaster associated with outbreaks and epidemics.

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the escalation of communal tensions and violence in Myanmar’s Rakhine state has led to the creation of over 900,000 stateless people (forty-five percent of the total population).

Out of these, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs believes that more than 600,000 Rohingyas have fled since 25 August, 2017, to Bangladesh, adding to the 300,000 to 500,000 Rohingya refugees already settled in the densely-populated neighbouring country.

The hasty, and often perilous, mass-exodus of these persecuted refugees comes with its share of trials and tribulations. Physical injuries, gunshot wounds due to hostilities with security forces, burn injuries as a result of torched settlements, all forms of violence against women, hunger, malnutrition, disease and mental trauma are just a few of the health hazards that these refugees have faced during the course of their escape to resettlement camps. An example of this is the massive mental health crisis faced by Rohingya children.

In Bangladesh, there are a large number of Rohingyas who are sick or in desperate need of medical attention. Many suffer from communicable diseases or are at a high risk for falling ill. Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C, Polio, and AIDS are the four major illnesses that have been identified by experts amongst the refugees.

Along with 11 children, there are 62 Rohingyas, predominantly women, who have been confirmed with HIV/AIDS. One woman has already died of AIDS, and it is estimated that at least 5,000 more Rohingya could be HIV-positive. The spread of sexually transmitted diseases is a concern, especially with news reports of Rohingya women in Bangladesh being forced into prostitution to feed mouths and make ends meet.

In the highly populated camps at Cox’s Bazar, 905,000 refugees are living in small, poorly drained and tightly cramped spaces that lack access to safe drinking water. Non-governmental organisations have built 1,532 latrines and with 327 persons sharing one toilet; the sanitary conditions are appalling.