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When the first cases of COVID-19 emerged in Bangladesh in March 2020, concerns quickly followed about the potential for the virus to spread through the densely populated refugee settlements in the south of the country that are home to over 860,000 Rohingya.

Just over a year later, out of almost 30,000 tests conducted in the Rohingya camps, only 400 cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed, resulting in 10 deaths. The reasons for the lower-than-expected numbers of recorded infections and deaths are not yet clear, but since the start of the pandemic, UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, and other aid agencies have worked closely with the government and local authorities to come up with a response that includes both refugees and local Bangladeshi communities.

“Coordination and collaboration among the agencies is so important, while the proactive engagement of refugees and host communities has been a crucial factor in the response to COVID-19 in Cox’s Bazar,” said Dr. Allen Gidraf Kahindo Maina, UNHCR’s senior public health officer in the district. 

Initially, this meant using radio, videos and posters in Rohingya, Burmese and Bengali languages to share information about how people could protect themselves from the virus. The outreach campaign also included hundreds of volunteer community health workers, many of them refugees, carrying out door-to-door visits to share information, and support local health care facilities to identify and treat COVID-19 cases. 

Since the beginning of the response, the humanitarian community has helped to establish 14 isolation and treatment centres (ITCs) inside the camps and in the surrounding host communities in Cox’s Bazar. By the end of 2020, there were over 1,200 beds available between them. The ITCs are equipped to provide care for Bangladeshi and Rohingya COVID-19 patients with mild to severe symptoms. 

In May 2020, UNHCR and partner, Relief International, opened the first such centre in Ukhiya town, just days before the first Rohingya refugee tested positive for COVID-19.

Source: UNHCR