COVID-19 and the Rohingya Refugees in Bangladesh: The Challenges and Recommendations

Muhammad Nazrul Islam, Toki Tahmin Inan and A. K. M. Najmul Islam



This short article describes the current challenges facing Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh and suggests possible prevention measures to avoid COVID-19
outbreaks in these vulnerable areas.
The authors identify the following challenges: (a) the difficulty of implementing social distancing measures in the refugee camps due to overcrowding (population density per square kilometer in the camps is 40 times higher than the average density in Bangladesh); (b) lack of internet and telecommunication services in the camps, which makes it difficult for refugees to access public health information; (c) limited access to clean water, and inadequate hygiene; (d) insufficient COVID-19 testing facilities and intensive care facilities; (e) absence of skilled medical professionals; (f) prevalence of pre-existing diseases among refugees, making them more vulnerable to COVID-19; and (g) the approaching cyclone and
monsoon season.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Government of Bangladesh has disseminated public health information in the camps, intensified hygiene promotion, offered training for health care workers and community leaders, and permitted refugees to use testing services, isolation, and hospital facilities of the Cox’s Bazaar district. The authors argue that government, NGOs, and international health organizations will need to undertake further initiatives to contain the spread of COVID-19. Specifically, they suggest:

  • Installation of electronic billboards to provide information on COVID-19 and public health guidelines;
  •  Installation of wireless or wired connectivity to facilitate communication between refugees and health workers;
  • Distribution of sufficient supplies of masks and soap;
  •  Establishment of a dedicated testing facility and intensive care unit beds for refugees;
  •  Additional health workers or volunteers to disseminate health information;
  •  Expansion of facilities to maintain hygiene standards including additional hand pumps and toilets;
  • Recruitment of additional health professionals and installation of digital health service points for receiving advice from doctors through video or teleconferencing; and
  • Ensuring easy access to humanitarian services throughout the pandemic.