Nothing But Nets recently visited Southeast Asia to better understand how countries like Thailand and Bangladesh are fighting malaria. While there, we visited Rohingya refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, something we never could have prepared for. Here’s what happened.
After a full 24-hour day of travel, we land in Dhaka, Bangladesh – and are immediately overwhelmed -- in every sense of the word. The air so thick you can feel it, see it even, in most places. People seeming to emerge from nowhere, shoulder to shoulder, pulsing through the city between the buses, cars, and tuktuks crammed with more passengers than probably allowed or, certainly, advised. But we aren’t here for long. We’re going south on a plane older than the country itself, bound for Cox’s Bazar – a beach town, for all intents and purposes.
This is to where thousands have fled their homeland, Myanmar, in search of respite, solace, and safety. On foot, the Rohingya people fled inconceivable violence. Most of the individuals who have fled are women and children.
The country is overflowing with a population of 165.6 million in a territory the size of Iowa. (You can only imagine half the population of the United States deciding to up and move to the corn-laden state.) In spite of their crowded reality, Bangladesh generously responded to the Rohingya refugee crisis by opening their borders, creating a massive - endless to the naked eye - chain of camps in what was once a nature preserve.
In just ten months, what was previously a dense forest is now a make-shift city with roads, shelters, tents, health clinics, drainage systems, even educational and recreational areas thanks to the continuous efforts of the government in partnership with United Nations agencies.
UNICEF and UNHCR have created spaces for children to live, for mothers to access quality health care unlike that even in their homeland. Inside the camp, it is not chaos and confusion but families and individuals carrying about.
We were fortunate enough to witness expectant mothers receive medical care, children receive immunizations, the sick receive treatment, the malnourished receive sustenance. And despite the hardship they’ve faced, the children smile as if not a care in the world could dissuade them, even as health threats like cholera and malaria lurk in the shadows. Of course, these camps aren’t a solution but a means to a hopefully peaceful end for the Rohingya.
The story of other refugee and IDP populations around the world is not unlike the plight of the Rohingya; they’ve fled their homes in search of safety, only to find themselves battling threats of a different nature like malaria and other infectious diseases. Refugees around the world often inhabit places with high transmission of malaria, and Cox’s Bazar is no exception.
However, for the Rohingya, Myanmar is already plagued with high malaria incidence and many of the refugees have been exposed to the disease in their lives; other refugee and IDP populations may not have ever encountered the parasite and thus face greater mortality and incidence. Last year, of the eight million out-patient consultations in UNHCR facilities, over 20% were due to malaria. 387 children under five died from a mosquito bite in 2017 alone.
We can’t continue to let this happen. No child should die of a mosquito bite. Protecting refugee and IDP populations from malaria has long been a priority for Nothing But Nets. Our UN partners are critical to supporting the most vulnerable children and families around the world. UNICEF provides insecticide-treated bed nets to protect children from the parasite – which is the sixth biggest killer of children under five.
As the leading organization dedicated to protecting IDPs and refugees, UNHCR ensures populations in need receive access to everything from sanitation and healthcare, to shelter, even food.
Nothing But Nets has worked in partnership with UNHCR to distribute over 1 million bed nets to settlements throughout Africa, often in rapid-response after a mass migration has occurred. We are proud of our partnership with and support to UN agencies such as UNHCR and UNICEF who are working on the frontlines of conflict and the world’s most difficult humanitarian disasters. We believe that together, we can protect innocent people from needless disease and end malaria for good.