25 June 2020 - Bangladesh

COVID-19: Forty percent of Rohingya refugee children in Bangladesh are scared of dying or losing a loved one to the virus

Construction of the COVID-19 isolation and treatment centre in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh

Save the Children poised to open new Isolation and Treatment Centre in Cox’s Bazar to help treat the sick as cases continue to rise.

Four out of every ten children in the congested Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh are scared of dying or losing a family member to COVID-19, with girls more scared than boys of losing their lives or a loved one, according to a new report completed in May but only now made public.

Several aid agencies including Save the Children spoke to 223 children and adolescents (52 percent male, 48 percent female) across several camps in Cox’s Bazar to better understand how children in the world’s largest refugee settlement are impacted by COVID-19. The vast majority (93 percent) had heard of COVID-19 and many knew what symptoms to look out for. Two-thirds of the children (64 percent) were scared of being infected, while nearly half (49 percent) were distressed about the closure of play areas and learning centres.

There are currently at least 46 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the camps, and 5 deaths from the virus, but as testing capacity is limited, the actual number is likely to be much higher. One in ten households in the camps have at least one individual above the age of five with a chronic illness or disability, increasing the risk of complications or death if they contract COVID-19.

Nearly half of the refugee population (45 percent) aren’t getting enough daily nutrition, and we can assume that malnourished children are potentially at higher risk of worse outcomes from COVID-19.

To meet the urgent health needs of the community, Save the Children is about to open a new isolation and treatment centre (ITC) in the coming days, with a capacity of up to 60 beds. It provides higher level care for confirmed and suspected COVID-19 patients from both the Rohingya refugee community and the local community in Cox’s Bazar.

In the densely packed Rohingya refugee camps – four times the density of New York City –  latrines and washing facilities are shared and social distancing and self-isolation are extremely challenging. The cases of COVID-19 further endanger the lives of one of the world’s most persecuted and marginalized communities.

Onno van Manen, Country Director for Save the Children in Bangladesh, said:

“Children tell us they’re scared of dying. The fear of death or losing a loved one can be very distressing for a child, especially when many have already experienced intense trauma and loss, having been forced from their homes in Myanmar and stuck in a congested refugee camp for the past three years.

“While we have been working tirelessly to keep COVID-19 out of the camps, we knew it was only a matter of time. Save the Children along with the Government of Bangladesh, and others, have been working to prepare the community, minimise the spread of the virus and make sure children have access to services to keep them safe.

“Our new isolation and treatment centre will offer care for moderate to severe cases of people with suspected and confirmed COVID-19. The centre will be staffed by an expert team of 80 health professionals and support staff, including Save the Children’s Emergency Health Unit, who have extensive experience in managing disease outbreaks

 “The plans for the centre include a dedicated area where pregnant women with COVID-19 can safely deliver their babies and patients can access gender-based-violence support services if needed.”

Rachel Pounds, Head of Save the Childrens Emergency Health Unit, said:

“We just don’t know how this virus will play out in a congested refugee camp where children are already more vulnerable to infectious diseases because they lack access to regular healthcare, vaccinations and adequate daily nutrition. This combination of poor vaccination and malnutrition could increase the risk of these malnourished children having worse outcomes from the outbreak.

“One of the most important parts of our Ebola response in the Democratic Republic of Congo was community engagement and raising awareness – and this is essential again for our COVID-19 response in Cox’s Bazar. One of the best ways to slow transmission rates is to empower children and adults with the information they need to protect themselves and to understand how they can help safeguard vulnerable family members from the virus.”

“The international community must urgently step up to support the Government of Bangladesh and ensure much needed funding is allocated for Rohingya refugees and the host communities of Cox’s Bazar to protect them against the impact of COVID-19. Inaction could lead to a disastrous and preventable loss of life” 

To support Save the Childrens global COVID-19 emergency appeal, click here.


  • Save the Children’s isolation and treatment centre was constructed in accordance with the guidance of the World Health Organization (WHO), in consultation with the Bangladesh Ministry of Health and Inter Sector Coordination Group (ISCG) in Cox's Bazar.
  • Once Save the Children’s isolation and treatment centre is at full capacity, along with treatment centres set up by other humanitarian agencies, it is estimated there will be an additional 1,000 to 1,500 isolation beds in the camps to support COVID-19 patients, serving a population of over 1 million Rohingya refugees and the host community.
  • Save the Children’s response to the COVID-19 outbreak in Cox’s Bazar is focused on three key areas: community-based care and information, continuing our existing life-saving health services and providing specialised clinical care for COVID-19 patients in an isolation and treatment centre.
  • The Isolation and Treatment Centre will be open 24 hours a day, seven days a week and treat children and adults from the refugee and host community. The centre will have a dedicated waste management facility, kitchen, laundry, a morgue and an on-site laboratory for sample collection, which are referred for testing.
  • Save the Children is also setting up mobile health teams to provide home-based care for refugees who are unable to access the isolation and treatment centre.
  • Multimedia content available here.

For media requests or questions, feel free to reach out to: 

Bhanu Bhatnagar, Bhanu.Bhatnagar@savethechildren.org / +44 7467 096788

Rik Goverde, rik.gobverde@savethechildren.org / +44 (0) 7732 602 301

Out-of-hours: Media@savethechildren.org.uk  / +44 7831 650 409

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