Scabies outbreak strikes Rohingya refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar, demanding urgent response

Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) has issued an urgent call for action as an outbreak of scabies, a highly contagious skin disease, ravages the Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar district. With an estimated 40 percent of the overcrowded camps affected, immediate and comprehensive measures are needed to bring the outbreak under control.

While scabies is easily treatable, if left untreated, it can cause severe physical and mental suffering. MSF emphasises that addressing the unsanitary conditions that have led to the outbreak is crucial, as simply distributing drugs will not prevent reinfections.

MSF teams have observed a dramatic increase in the number of scabies patients in recent years. Between January and May 2023 alone, they treated nearly 70,000 patients for scabies, almost double the number during the same period in 2022. The situation has overwhelmed the capacity of the healthcare facilities, leaving many patients untreated.

MSF conducted a study in the Rohingya refugee camps last year that revealed alarming water and sanitation conditions. Proper sanitation is lacking, and water availability is insufficient, with some areas only receiving water for two hours a day. Moreover, there has been a degradation in maintenance, leading to fewer functioning latrines. These conditions, coupled with the misconception of groundwater depletion, have resulted in reduced soap rations and inadequate hygiene practises.

MSF sees the 40 percent positive rate for scabies as a warning sign that the health and sanitation response in the camps is failing, posing a threat to the well-being of the Rohingya people and the local community.Immediate action is imperative to control the scabies outbreak, improve water and sanitation conditions, and ensure that refugees have access to adequate healthcare services and support.

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