Fife doctor among medical staff to help Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh

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The Rohingya Muslims are living in extremely challenging conditions

A Fife doctor is among 40 medical staff flying to Bangladesh to help battle an outbreak of diptheria among Rohingya refugees.

Derek Sloan, consultant physician of infectious diseases at St Andrews University, is a member of the UK’s emergency medical team who will brave extremely challenging conditions to treat those who have fled “harrowing” persecution in Burma.

More than 40 doctors, nurses and firefighters are making their way to the fishing port Cox’s Bazar, where many Rohingya are living in camps.

The World Health organisation and the Bangladeshi government has requested help following 1,470 suspected cases of diptheria and 20 reported deaths.

Dr Sloan said he had been a member of the emergency team since its inception and had “obviously” agreed to go when asked.

He said outbreaks of infections were highly likely when large groups of people were living in such miserable circumstances.

“People are living very close together and there is low level vaccine coverage for diseases such as diptheria in that kind of situation,” he said.

“The risk is much greater than under normal circumstances.”

He added: “Additionally, once an outbreak starts the ability for it to spread rapidly among people in that type of living environment is unfortunately much higher than normal.”

Diptheria is an airborne disease spread from person to person that can cause a type of tonsillitis, airway obstruction and kidney, heart and neurological disease. It can be treated with antibiotics and anti-toxins.

Dr Sloan said the key was to identify and treat it very quickly. “Of course, that has to be allied with a vaccination campaign in the wider community to try and stop the spread of transmission,” he said.

An estimated 620,000 Rohingya men, women and children have fled to neighbouring Bangladesh following persecution from the Burmese military in their native state of Rakhine.

Dr Sloan said while the emergency team’s specific deployment was for diptheria treatment, the potential for other diseases was high.

“We have to be prepared for other things to develop.” he said.

UK health minister Steve Brine said Britain had a proud tradition of supporting nations in need.

“Today marks another proud moment in the history of the NHS as selfless clinical staff once again show their skill, commitment and passion for helping people around the world,” he said.

The British team will deploy to Cox’s Bazar for six weeks.