May 15, 2020 - Health

First coronavirus cases reported in world's largest refugee settlement

In this image, people behind a fence stand in line outside
Rohingya refugees wait in a relief distribution point at a Kutupalong refugee camp on March 24. Photo: Suzauddin Rubel/AFP via Getty Images

Kutupalong refugee camps in Bangladesh reported their first coronavirus cases on Thursday, per the humanitarian organization International Rescue Committee (IRC) and U.N. Refugee Agency (UNHCR).

Why it matters: Public health experts view a major coronavirus outbreak in a refugee camp as a worst-case scenario, as conditions are overcrowded with residents sharing water and basic hygiene facilities.

  • Kutupalong is the largest refugee settlement in the world, with over 855,000 refugees and 444,000 locals in or around the camps, IRC said Thursday.

What's happening: A Rohingya refugee tested positive for the coronavirus in Kutupalong, as well as one person in the local host community, the UNHCR said. Both patients are under self-isolation and efforts to trace who they have come into contact with are underway, the agency said.

  • "Health facilities are already crowded and overwhelmed, without the sufficient equipment, health staff or physical space necessary to treat cases," Manish Agrawal, Bangladesh country director at the IRC, said in a Thursday press release.
  • "There's just not enough soap and water nor space for them to follow proper guidance to protect themselves from the disease," Agrawal said.
  • But, the U.N.'s Bangladesh refugee agency claims that health staff in the Cox's Bazar camp in the Kutupalong settlement was prepared to deal with the infections and had necessary personal protective equipment to respond.

Go deeper: Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon reports first coronavirus case

Go deeper