Demonstrating equity and inclusiveness, which are critical to curtail the ongoing pandemic, Bangladesh has launched COVID-19 vaccination for Rohingya refugees, housed in one of the world’s largest and most densely populated camps in Cox’s Bazar.
Sixty-four year old Mohammad Shofi was among those to get the COVID-19 vaccine on day one of the campaign that rolled out on August 10, to vaccinate nearly 48,000 refugees in the age group of 55 years and above.
“I feel really good,” said Johura Khartun, another of the first few beneficiaries of the vaccination drive.
Lauding the initiative, Regional Director, Dr. Poonam Khetrapal Singh, said, “I commend Bangladesh leadership for this initiative and their ongoing efforts to scale up vaccination across the country.
“Bangladesh is demonstrating what WHO has been advocating for–equitable access to vaccines. Inclusion is key to protecting vulnerable populations like the refugees, for safeguarding their health and that of their host communities and societies,” the Regional Director said.
Vaccination of Rohingya refugees is part of the National Deployment and Vaccination Plan to ensure equity and fair allocation of vaccines across the country.
“We believe this campaign will play a key role in containment of SARS-COV-2 transmission and reduce mortality and morbidity among this vulnerable population”, said Dr. Md. Mahbubur Rahman, Civil Surgeon, Cox’s Bazar.
In the Rohingya refugee camps, the COVID-19 campaign is led by the government with technical support of WHO among other partners.
WHO has led the partnership support for preparation of operational plan, training of medical officers, vaccinators and other health workforce.
WHO has repurposed its field staff working in other programmes like TB, in addition to deploying medical officers specializing in vaccine preventable diseases and its entire Cox’s Bazar health emergencies team for prioritizing support to smooth roll out of COVID-19 vaccination in Cox’s Bazar camps.
“Vaccination of this highly vulnerable population is important to contain the spread of COVID-19 virus and prevent prolonging the pandemic. No one is safe until everyone is safe,” said Dr. Bardan Jung Rana, WHO Representative to Bangladesh.
WHO, in partnership with UNICEF and UNHCR, has trained community health workers in the refugee camps.
“Time and again the Government and the people of Bangladesh have demonstrated global leadership, generosity and humanity towards the Rohingya. The UN in Bangladesh is ever so grateful for this initiative and the partnerships that have made this possible,” said Mia Seppo, UN Resident Coordinator in Bangladesh.
Engaging communities and getting their support is critical for update of COVID-19 vaccines as well as adherence to public health and social measures. Thousands of refugee and host community volunteers are working tirelessly promoting and mobilizing communities for health and hygiene measures and connecting them with critical health services.
The COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective in preventing severe disease, hospitalization, and death. However, vaccines alone cannot stop the pandemic. Hence, those vaccinated will need to continue to wear face masks appropriately, practice hand hygiene, and other COVID-19 appropriate behavior.
Prioritizing vulnerable communities, WHO has been and will continue to work with health sector partners for providing quality essential services to the refugees as well as their host communities in Cox’s Bazar.