Nearly half a million Rohingya children in Bangladesh being vaccinated against diphtheria

Shafiq*, 18 months, is screened for malnutrition by Save the Children staff. His arm is measured, he is weighed, his length is measured and the staff checks his lungs. He is found to be suffering from severe acute malnutrition.


As part of an intensified response to the current diphtheria outbreak, the WHO, UNICEF and health sector partners are working with the Bangladesh government to vaccinate about 475,000 Rohingya refugee children in the country, said the UN children’s agency Sunday.

The Bangladesh Ministry of Health and Family Welfare is helping with the vaccination of the children in Rohingya refugee camps, temporary settlements and surrounding areas in Cox’s Bazar, some 292 km southeast of capital Dhaka, said the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF).

“All efforts are being made to stop the further spread of diphtheria. The vaccination of children in the Rohingya camps and nearby areas demonstrates the health sector’s commitment to protecting people, particularly children, against deadly diseases,” said Bardan Jung Rana, a World Health Organization (WHO) Representative to Bangladesh, in a statement.

Nearly 150,000 children aged six weeks to seven years received pentavalent vaccine, which protects against diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, haemophilus influenza type b and hepatitis B, and nearly 166,000 children aged 7 to 17 years old were given tetanus and diphtheria (Td) vaccine, during a three-week vaccination campaign that ended on December 31.

Two more rounds of vaccination with a diphtheria-containing vaccine, at intervals of one month, are planned to fully protect the children in camps and surrounding areas.

“Children are particularly vulnerable to diphtheria…We are making continued efforts to improve the conditions of the camps. At the same time, diphtheria vaccination is vital to reducing the risk of further outbreak,” said UNICEF Country Representative Edouard Beigbeder.

To limit the spread of diphtheria to communities living near the Rohingya camps and settlements, nearly 160,000 children in 499 schools of Teknaf and Ukhiya sub-districts are also being vaccinated. This initiative began on January 1.

According to the WHO statement, between November 8, 2017 and January 11, 2018, as many as 31 deaths and 3,954 suspected cases of diphtheria have been reported from Cox’s Bazar.

Nearly 10,594 contacts of these suspected cases have been put on diphtheria preventive medication, it said.

The WHO has released 1.5 million U.S. dollars from its Contingency Fund for Emergencies to scale up the response to diphtheria among the Rohingya population in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, over the next six months.

The funds are being used to support immunization; provide essential medicines and supplies; improve capacities for laboratory testing, case management and contract tracing; and engage with communities.