COVID-19 Crisis in Cox’s Bazar: ‘How can we be expected to cope here, in these conditions?
Published on 03 April 2020 04:52 PM
Age International is urging the government and humanitiarians to protect the older people most at risk
We are calling on UK government and the international development sector to ensure the specific needs and risks facing older people in countries like Bangladesh are central to their response to Covid-19 (Coronavirus), and not side-line those who are most at-risk. Around 855,000 Rohingya refugees are living in congested camps in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, including thousands of older people. Whilst there has only been one confirmed Covid-19 case there to date, testing in the camps has only just begun and the overcrowded conditions and poor access to running water and good healthcare means that an outbreak would spread rapidly with devastating consequences.
“I cannot bear to think what will happen if there is an outbreak here. Things will quickly spiral out of control and there will be a colossal loss of life” - Jahangir Alam, Acting Country Director of HelpAge International in Bangladesh
Age International and HelpAge International in Bangladesh (our partners on the ground) have been supporting older Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh who fled Myanmar since 2017, and many already suffer chronic illnesses which are exacerbated by the camp’s conditions, such as diabetes, hypertension and cardiovascular and chronic respiratory disease, putting them at very high risk. With poor access to healthcare facilities and only 3 ventilators available across all the camps, an acute case of Covid-19 there is likely a death sentence.
“It’s mind-boggling when you hear on the news that hospitals in cities like New York are struggling to cope. So how can we be expected to cope here, in these conditions?”
The lack of access to health care means that prevention measures are particularly vital, but physical distancing is almost impossible in the severely crowded camps, with between five to eight family members living in one room and most with no toilets or bathing facilities. Many people must walk throughout the camps each day to find food and running water.
Age International is on the ground supporting older people to follow the guidance on maintaining hygiene and prevent the spread of the virus, including via our Age-Friendly Spaces where we have installed handwashing points and are distributing soap and hand sanitiser. We are preparing teams of volunteers to provide community health care, water and sanitation on a larger scale in the coming months, as well as procuring vital protective equipment such as masks and gowns for health workers and community outreach teams. We are also working with BBC Media Action resources to raise awareness of Covid-19 by broadcasting messages throughout the camps in the Rohingya language.
Older people are often forgotten or side-lined in the response to crises, but with evidence showing that older people are most at risk of serious illness, hospitalisation and death from Covid-19 it's more important than ever that humanitarian organisations put older people front and centre to prevent a catastrophe.
Older people in the poorest parts of the world affected by conflict or living in refugee camps need help urgently to survive the silent threat of COVID-19.