NEW YORK (November 10, 2017) – An increase in the number of suspected measles cases among the newly arrived Rohingya and their host communities in southern Bangladesh has prompted the Government and UN partners to step up immunization efforts in overcrowded camps and makeshift shelters close to the border with Myanmar.

Nearly 360,000 people in the age group of six months to 15 years among the new Rohingya arrivals in Cox’s Bazar and their host communities, irrespective of their immunization status, would be administered measles and rubella vaccines through fixed health facilities, outreach vaccination teams, and at entry points into Bangladesh.

Measles, a childhood killer disease which can be particularly dangerous among unimmunized and malnourished children, is one of the major health risks among the over 611,000 people who have crossed over to Bangladesh from Myanmar since late August and are now living in cramped and unsanitary conditions in Cox’s Bazar district.

As of November 4, one death and 412 suspected cases of measles have been reported among the vulnerable populations living in camps, settlements, and among the host communities in Cox’s Bazar. Of them, 352 cases are from Ukhia and 46 from Teknaf sub-districts, and 11 have been reported from the district hospital. Majority of cases – 398 – were detected among the new arrivals and 14 among the host communities. As many as 82% of cases are among children under five years of age.

“Children are especially at risk from outbreaks of measles and other communicable diseases that result from the crowded living conditions, malnutrition and severe lack of water and sanitation in the camps and other sites,” said Edouard Beigbeder, the UNICEF Representative in Bangladesh. “To halt any wider outbreak, it’s essential that coordinated efforts begin immediately to protect as many children as possible.” 

With the risk of measles being high during such health emergencies, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW), with support of WHO, UNICEF and other local partners, was quick to roll out a measles and rubella (MR) vaccination campaign, between  September 16 andOctober 4, within weeks of the start of the recent influx of Rohingya from Myanmar. Nearly 136,000 children between six months and 15 years were administered the MR vaccine. Additionally, around 72,000 children up to five years of age were given the bivalent oral polio vaccine (bOPV) and a dose of Vitamin A to help prevent measles related complications. The number of new arrivals has increased since, leading to further challenges in reaching out to all children in view of the movement of people within the camps and settlements.

“As part of stepped up vaccination efforts, 43 fixed health facility sites, 56 outreach vaccination teams and vaccination teams at main border entry points will administer the MR vaccine to population aged six months to 15 years, along with the oral polio vaccine to children under five years and TT vaccine to pregnant women. These efforts are aimed at protecting and preventing the spread of measles among the vulnerable population,” WHO Representative to Bangladesh Dr N Paranietharan said.

More than 70 vaccinators from government agencies and partners have been trained to administer routine vaccination though fixed sites and outreach teams beginning tomorrow, while vaccination at entry points at Subrang, Teknaf, has been ongoing since November 1.

The fixed sites and outreach teams will also cover under two-year-olds with vaccines available as part of the Bangladesh EPI schedule, such as BCG, pentavalent vaccine, oral polio vaccine, pneumococcal vaccine and two doses of the MR vaccine.

As an additional measure, resources to treat measles cases are being reinforced with the distribution of vitamin A supplements, antibiotics for pneumonia and Oral Rehydration Salts (ORS) for diarrhea related to measles. To improve hygiene conditions among the refugee population, 3.2 million water purification tablets and a total of 18,418 hygiene kits have been distributed benefitting 92,090 people.

The current initiative is yet another massive vaccination drive being rolled out for the new arrivals from Myanmar and their host communities in Cox’s Bazar since August 25this year. After covering 136,000 people in the September-October MR campaign, MoHFW and partners administered 900,000 doses of oral cholera vaccines (OCV) to these vulnerable populations in two phases. The first phase that started on October 10 covered over 700,000 people aged one year and above - both the new arrivals and their host communities, while the second phase from November 4 – 9 provided an additional dose of OCV to 199,472 children between one and five years, for added protection and bOPV to 236,696 children under 5 years of age.

For more information, contact:
Sophie Aziakou, UNICEF USA, 917.720.1397,
Michael Vurens van Es, WHO, in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, +880 1730 032 329,
Shamila Sharma, WHO South-East Asia Regional Office, +91 9818287256,