Home Health Myanmar Rohingya crisis: UK medics to help tackle diphtheria

Myanmar Rohingya crisis: UK medics to help tackle diphtheria


A team of British medical staff is travelling to Bangladesh to help tackle an outbreak of diphtheria affecting Rohingya muslim refugee camps.

More than 40 doctors, nurses and firefighters will go to the fishing port Cox's Bazar – following a request from the World Health Organization.

Cox's Bazar is home to more than 600,000 Rohingya refugees who have fled violence in bordering Myanmar.

The government said the deployment was "another proud moment for the NHS".

This is the first deployment of Britain's emergency medical team (EMT) since it was certified by the World Health Organization in 2016.

The staff will be at the camps for six weeks working to fight the spread of diphtheria, as up to 160 new cases of the disease are being reported every day.

The highly contagious disease has already killed at least 27 people.

The infection is now very rare in the UK, but affects the nose and throat and can lead to difficulty breathing, heart failure, paralysis and death.

As of 21 December, the charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) said it had seen more than 2,000 suspected cases in its health facilities. The majority of patients were between five and 14 years old.

Crystal VanLeeuwen, the emergency medical co-ordinator for MSF at one of the camps, said the living conditions of the camp presented added challenges.

There is a "very poor water and sanitation situation, overcrowding… and low vaccination coverage", she said.

An estimated 620,000 Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh following persecution from the Burmese military in their native state of Rakhine, since August.

The United Nations described the military offensive in Rakhine, which provoked the exodus, as a "textbook example of ethnic cleansing".

Myanmar's military says it is fighting Rohingya militants and denies targeting civilians.

International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt said it was "absolutely right" for the UK to "step up" and help ease the suffering of the Rohingya families.

"This will be an absolutely critical deployment, in a race against time for men, women and children at risk of dying from one of the world's cruellest infections," she added.

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