Belfast nurse heads up coronavirus centre in worlds largest refugee camp

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By David Young, PA

A Belfast nurse is heading up a new coronavirus isolation and treatment centre in the world's largest refugee camp.

Rachel Fletcher has been working in Cox's Bazar area of Bangladesh for months, helping with efforts to build the centre, secure PPE supplies and train staff to treat patients.

Ms Fletcher is a part of Save The Children's Emergency Health Unit, which is a team of international specialists who respond to deadly disease outbreaks across the globe.

The former Belfast Trust nurse spent almost a year fighting the Ebola outbreak in West Africa in 2014 and, more recently, was deployed to help those caught up in humanitarian crisis in Yemen.

Cox's Bazar houses nearly one million Rohingya refugees who fled violence in Burma.

Families live in overcrowded conditions, making social distancing nearly impossible.

There are only 18 intensive care beds in the entire Cox's Bazar district, which has a total population of more than three million people.

Ms Fletcher, who is the manager of the newly opened treatment centre, travelled to Bangladesh with London nurse Rachael Cummings.

"It's been a race against time to get the centre ready," said Ms Fletcher.

"Conditions are tough.

"We're here to support local health teams and walk with them on this difficult journey, particularly when faced with the impossible decision of who gets a hospital bed and who doesn't, when resources are stretched."

The Disasters Emergency Committee Coronavirus Appeal, which has raised more than £5 million since its launched last Tuesday, will be providing funding to support the battle against the virus in Cox's Bazar.

Rachel Pounds, head of Save The Children's 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 in turn makes them less able to fight off the virus if they get infected.

"One of the most important parts of our Ebola response in the Democratic Republic of Congo was community engagement and awareness and this will be 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 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."

The Government is matching donations made by the UK public to the Disaster Emergency Committee up to the first £5 million.

International Development Secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan said: "We are matching generous donations from the British people to the emergency appeal pound for pound, meaning your money will go twice as far in helping to protect millions of the world's most vulnerable people from the deadly effects of coronavirus.

"Clean water and healthcare in refugee camps are essential in containing coronavirus in the developing world - helping stop the spread of the pandemic and protecting the UK from further waves of infection."

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