Now Is The Time To Strike At The Vector Borne Threat To The Rohingya
The erection of a massive refugee camp, housing over 420,000 fleeing Rohingya Muslims and spread across an open area in Southern Bangladesh¹ marks a shift in their story, and a new time and place in which the international community can and should act.
As fellow emergency and humanitarian aid organisations step up to offer assistance to the Rohingya people, ranging from basic necessities like food and shelter to WASH and hygiene programmes within the camp, and as the construction of the camp grows exponentially in size and complexity, the moment to integrate Vector Borne Disease control is now. Structures are being built from makeshift materials like bamboo and plastic tarpaulin², on grounds muddied by the monsoon season which is just now coming to an end. These seasonal weather factors, along with the logistical nightmare of waste management for any camp erected to this magnitude and at such a speed, create the prime breeding conditions for regional disease vectors like mosquitoes to establish themselves and multiply.
Combining these environmental conditions with the malnutrition and displacement the Rohingya are suffering, known causal factors in the susceptibility to VBDs by weakening the immune system and increasing physical exposure to the vectors carrying these diseases, the likelihood of potentially multiple outbreaks of disease grows with each passing day. The Rohingya people have fled to a part of the world with rising case numbers of both Dengue and Chikungunya³, spread by the native Aedes aegypti (and Aedes albopictus) mosquito. This vector is inevitably starting to breed in the stagnant pools of water that gather around temporary human habitation in the form of water storage, water waste, and tiny catchments found in discarded plastic, bottles, or other types of litter. Their numbers could very well explode within and around the camps in the coming months. A public health emergency compounding the existing humanitarian emergency looms unless we act.
Deploying preventative measures against the rise and spread of these vectors and the diseases they carry needs to happen as soon as possible. The transmission of diseases within such a densely populated area can grow out of control in a very short amount of time, especially when combined with such a lack of facilities, services, medical responses, and under the conditions of malnutrition and weakened immune systems indicative of severe displacement. Through the application of a targeted Integrated Vector Management toolkit, utilising techniques such as Larviciding to minimise the vector breeding cycle or Internal Residual Spraying to minimise the transmission cycle along with extensive information and education efforts within the community, existing cases of these diseases can be managed and new cases can be prevented. These preventative efforts will go a long way to promoting much needed relief from yet another potential hardship these already stained refugee communities face; a relief and impact that will stay with them as a community wherever they may go, minimising the inevitable challenges these refugees will undoubtedly face both now and into the future.
The MENTOR Initiative are currently and urgently exploring options and means to delivering these much needed responses to the Rohingya people.