COX’S BAZAR, Bangladesh: With no money even to bury his eight-year-old daughter, Ali Hossain broke down as he recounted her final moments, the latest Rohingya refugee to die in Bangladesh as fears mount over outbreaks of disease.
The little girl was among some 436,000 Rohingya Muslims who fled a brutal military crackdown in Myanmar’s Rakhine, making the dangerous journey across the border to neighboring Bangladesh.
But her bid for safety ended when she fell victim to an intestinal infection, likely triggered by poor sanitation as well as food and water shortages in the overcrowded makeshift camps that are home to the Rohingya.
She died on Monday, hours after she was admitted to a state-run hospital in the border town of Cox’s Bazar.
More than 200 Rohingya are being treated in Sadar Hospital, which has been inundated with patients, with a shortage of beds forcing doctors to house the sick on sheets spread out on the floor.
Nurses said at least 20 refugees, mostly children, have died in that hospital alone since the influx began, after attacks by Rohingya militants on Myanmar police posts on August 25 sparked a sweeping crackdown.
But official figures from the Bangladesh authorities say that just 10 Rohingya have died throughout the camps around Cox’s Bazar.
Police have set up checkpoints around the camps—to stop refugees going to other parts of the country—and are only allowing ambulances to ferry patients in and out of the area.
“We don’t stop any sick and injured refugees from going to the hospitals,” a policeman at one checkpoint told Agence France-Presse.
“And there have been a lot of Rohingya who have gone to hospitals in the past few days,” he said.
Relief agencies have warned that diarrhea, cholera and pneumonia could spread quickly among the refugees who are living in squalid conditions, putting further pressure on overstretched hospitals.
“This extra influx has piled up a huge burden on our resources. But we are trying very hard to manage these cases to our best level,” Sadar Hospital spokesman Abdur Rahman told Agence France-Presse.
“We have limited resources, limited medicine, limited manpower, limited food,” he said.
“If we cannot control these (cases), there will be a high chance of epidemics of diarrhoea, cholera, dysentery.”
Before the latest influx, the camps around Cox’s Bazar were already packed with 300,000 Rohingya who had fled earlier violence in Rakhine. Conditions have only worsened since then.
The Rohingya are facing dire shortages of food and medicine in what has quickly become one of the world’s largest refugee settlements.
Meanwhile the absence of safe drinking water and hygiene facilities has heightened the risk of water-borne diseases, with the World Health Organization warning Monday of a growing cholera threat.
The risks are all too real for Hossain, whose octogenarian mother is being treated in the same hospital where his daughter died.
The onset of his child’s illness was sudden and brutal.
She began vomiting on Sunday evening, prompting her terrified father to rush her to a local clinic and then to the hospital.
“But the doctors said we came too late,” he told Agence France-Presse, distraught as he stood beside her body, now covered by a bedsheet.
“I don’t know what to do…. I’ve run out of ideas and I hope Allah will help me.”