GENEVA

The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) on Friday expressed concern over a possible COVID-19 outbreak in refugee camps in Bangladesh, which house over a million Rohingya refugees.

“There are serious concerns about the potentially severe impact of the virus in the densely populated refugee settlements sheltering some 860,000 Rohingya refugees,” UNHCR spokesperson Andrej Mahecic said in a video briefing from Geneva.

Bangladeshi authorities confirmed the first cases in a Rohingya refugee camp on Thursday.

Mahecic said the refugees sheltering in crammed makeshift tents and the around 400,000 Bangladeshis who live in the surrounding host communities are among the most at-risk people in this pandemic.

“No effort must be spared if higher fatality rates are to be avoided in overcrowded sites with limited health and water and sanitation infrastructure,” he said.

At the same briefing, World Food Program (WFP) spokesperson Elisabeth Byrs said COVID-19 threatens to reverse development gains made by Bangladesh over the past five decades.

“The middle-income country with already overstretched health systems is battling the spread of the crippling virus,” she said.

Byrs noted that 40 million people in Bangladesh live in poverty, and a significant drop in income and consumption among the vulnerable has the potential to push millions more into poverty.

UNICEF Geneva spokesperson Marixie Mercado said the agency and its partners, including the WFP, “continue to provide screening, treatment and follow up care for acutely malnourished children.”

She said 11 percent of Rohingya children under the age of five suffer from acute malnutrition, placing them at heightened risk of medical complications if they contract the virus.

“Rohingya volunteer teachers have reached over 100,000 refugee households with school-age children [around 55% of families in the camps] with information about caregiver-led home-based learning,” said Mercado.

“So far, some 35,000 children are engaged in home-based learning activities.”

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