WHO and partners support diphtheria treatment centres in Cox’s Bazar

WHO Bangladesh/ Rahmat Ali

As part of its response to the diphtheria outbreak among Rohingya in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, WHO is training local and international doctors, intensive care nurses and other healthcare professionals working in the camps.

“One of the main challenges is that diphtheria is an old infectious disease that many doctors have never seen,” said Dr Janet Victoria Diaz, Clinical Management Leader. “We’ve prioritized training health workers to ensure they know how to distinguish diphtheria from an ordinary sore throat and how to correctly administer diphtheria antitoxins.”

WHO, the International Organization of Migration (IOM), the Government of Bangladesh, the Government of the United Kingdom, Médecins Sans Frontières, Samaritan’s Purse, Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee (BRAC), Medical Teams International (MTI), the IFRC and other partners are working together to provide expert clinical care for diphtheria and other health needs.

WHO/ D. Lourenço

“We have experienced doctors from home and abroad. I am learning a lot from the multicultural team and about diphtheria through working at the clinic,” said Dr A. A. M. Kamar Uddin (Muzakkir), a Bangladeshi medical officer and researcher from IOM. “I plan to do my thesis on diphtheria.”

WHO provides online training for healthcare professionals before they arrive in Cox’s Bazar, and follows up with onsite trainings. WHO also looks for unmet needs and reaches out to healthcare providers to fill gaps and optimize available resources. To keep centres running seamlessly so that patients receive continuous treatment, WHO works to ensure new healthcare workers integrate quickly.

"The trainings are very interesting because they provide an overview of what’s going on in the broader context, the challenges being faced and what we can do to improve for the future,” said Dr Duncan William Anderson, Staff Nurse, United Kingdom Emergency Medical Team (UK-EMT).

WHO Bangladesh/ A. Bhatiasevi

UK-EMT and Samaritan’s Purse responded to calls for assistance from the Government of Bangladesh with WHO support to provide clinical and intensive care. Beyond helping the Government of Bangladesh mount a clinical response, WHO is helping partners and the Ministry with clinical guidance and agreed treatment protocols, logistical support and the distribution of many field hospital tents, beds and furniture, hundreds of thousands of antibiotics and life-saving diphtheria anti-toxin medications.

WHO conducts meetings every night with medical team leads to discuss operational challenges and successes, share best practices and take decisions on the next steps in the response.

“Without this diverse group of partners coming together, the situation could have gotten a lot worse quickly,” Dr Diaz said. “The outbreak isn’t over, but with these trainings, we feel we are working to get it under control and treat the people who need to be treated.”