The skin disease scabies is affecting hundreds of thousands of Rohingya people living in refugee camps in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar district. Between January and May this year, MSF teams treated almost 70,000 patients for scabies – nearly double that of the same period in 2022.
Scabies is caused by a microscopic mite that burrows into the upper layer of the skin where it lives and lays its eggs. This causes intense, relentless itching, and a pimple-like rash in most people. Scabies usually affects children but if left untreated it can quickly spread to a whole family.
Scabies is easy to treat but can cause severe physical and mental effects if left untreated. The usual treatment involves drugs applied to patients’ skin, clothes and home environments to eliminate the parasite that causes the infestation. It’s also important to wash bedding, clothing and soft furnishings. However, MSF is warning that drugs will not be enough, as the outbreak is exacerbated by unsanitary living conditions in the camps—and these need to be addressed.
An MSF study in the camps in 2022 found a concerning lack of proper sanitation, and insufficient availability of water. Basic hygiene rations are also limited. These factors combined with extremely crowded conditions make it nearly impossible for people to prevent being infected. To bring the outbreak under control, the response needs to be fast and comprehensive and include improvements to water, sanitation and hygiene within the camps. Wide gaps in basic healthcare available to Rohingya refugees also must be addressed.