1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

UN launches cholera vaccination drive in Rohingya camps

Ashutosh Pandey with AFP, Reuters
October 10, 2017

The United Nations has launched a massive vaccination drive in Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh amid fears of a cholera outbreak. Nearly one million Rohingya are living in desperate conditions in the camps.

A Rohingya refugee child reacts as a Bangladeshi volunteer administers an oral cholera vaccine to her father
Image: Getty Images/AFP/I. Mukherjee

The United Nations has started administering cholera vaccines to Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh as part of one its biggest cholera vaccination drives.

Thousands of Rohingya on Tuesday braved the heat at makeshift health centers to receive the oral vaccine.

"Diarrheal diseases can easily spread any time hundreds of thousands of people live in close proximity without proper sanitation," UNHCR spokeswoman Yante Ismail told DW.

"Our concern is that new arrivals may be susceptible to diarrheal diseases due to their weakened bodies and compromised immune system, as a result of the hardship they have encountered."

More than 500,000 Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh in the past month to escape military and civilian reprisals in Myanmar that the United Nations has described as "ethnic cleansing."

Rohingya, a vast majority of whom are Muslims, have been denied citizenship rights. They are viewed by the local authorities as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, although many have been living in the region for decades, if not centuries. Myanmar's Buddhist majority is often accused of subjecting them to discrimination and violence.

Read more: Rohingya people in Myanmar: what you need to know

A Rohingya refugee gets her finger inked after having a dose of an oral cholera vaccine at the Thankhali refugee camp
A Rohingya refugee gets her finger inked after having a dose of an oral cholera vaccine at the Thankhali refugee campImage: Getty Images/AFP/I. Mukherjee

Second biggest cholera vaccination drive

The world body and the Bangladesh government first plan to vaccinate 650,000 people against cholera, which spreads through dirty water and can kill if left untreated.

A second round of vaccinations will start on October 31. It will target 250,000 children aged between one and five years with an additional dose of the vaccine for added protection.

The World Health Organization (WHO), which is supporting the campaign, said on Tuesday it had dispatched 900,000 doses of the vaccine. The vaccines are being delivered by more than 200 mobile vaccination teams.

It is the second biggest cholera vaccination drive that the UN has undertaken. About 800,000 people were immunized against the disease in Haiti in November.

Amid fears of a cholera outbreak, the WHO said more than 10,000 diarrhea have been reported and treated in the past week.

"UNHCR health experts are concerned that given the living conditions of new arrivals, if not prevented early, acute diarrhea could spread quickly and result in high mortality rates, especially among children, the elderly, and those with compromised immune systems," Ismail said.

Ismail added that more and more refugees were coming to clinics with diarrhoea and severe dehydration.

Read more: Myanmar's Rohingya: A history of forced exoduses

Rohingya refugee gets oral vaccine against cholera
A second round of vaccination targeted at children will start on October 31.Image: Reuters/M. Ponir Hossain

No signs of violence after ceasefire expires

A one-month ceasefire unilaterally enacted by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) to afford aid groups access to northwest Myanmar expired at midnight local time. On Tuesday, Myanmar officials announced they had seen no signs of new attacks in the hours after the ceasefire ended.

Read moreMyanmar's Rohingya rebels - What you need to know

The current exodus began after Myanmar security forces launched a counteroffensive in Rakhine State in western Myanmar in response to ARSA attacks on police posts on August 25. Myanmar says that more than 500 people, mostly insurgents, have been killed since hostilities began.   

Although ARSA has stated its willingness to enter talks should the government "be inclined to peace," authorities in Myanmar have said, "We have no policy to negotiate with terrorists." 

Portrait photo of Ashutosh Pandey wearing a blue collared shirt and a navy-blue blazer
Ashutosh Pandey Business editor with a focus on international trade, financial markets and the energy sector.@ashutoshpande85