The World’s Largest Refugee Camp Prepares for COVID-19

Gaia Vince

BMJ (2020), Volume 368, Published March 26, 2020


Over 855 000 Rohingya refugees from Myanmar have fled to Cox’s Bazar, the second poorest district in Bangladesh. This article describes efforts to prepare for COVID-19 in refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. Establishing measures to protect refugees from COVID-19 is particularly challenging in this setting due to overcrowded conditions, poor access to water and sanitation, and the prevalence of malnutrition, diarrhea and respiratory illness.

Despite the challenging situation, UNHCR is helping to coordinate efforts to increase hand washing at the site through portable hand washing facilities, and is disseminating information through community leaders to communicate WHO guidance. These initiatives draw on the experience of aid workers in communicating health advice and dealing with disease outbreaks over the past two and a half years. Additionally, gatherings are being discouraged, learning and community centers have been closed, and isolation zones and units are being prepared. A key lesson learned from past disease outbreaks is the importance of coordinating efforts with local and national government, and of advocating for the inclusion of refugees in national plans.