British experts deployed to combat deadly diphtheria outbreak in Bangladesh

More than 40 British doctors, nurses and firefighters experts from the UK’s Emergency Medical Team are attending Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh to save thousands of lives at risk from the outbreak of disease diphtheria.

This is the first ever deployment of Britain’s EMT since it was certified by the World Health Organisation (WHO) in 2016. The UK’s latest response follows a formal request for assistance from the WHO and the Government of Bangladesh after more than 2000 suspected cases and 22 reported deaths from the airborne virus. This is expected to increase significantly over the Christmas period and there are currently not enough staff or beds to manage the outbreak.

Diphtheria is a fast spreading, extremely deadly infection, and there are a reported 160 new cases every day in Cox’s Bazar which is home to more than 600,000 Rohingya people who have recently fled the violence and military persecution in Burma. The overcrowded camps are a breeding ground for this fatal disease. DFID is already providing vaccines in response to the crisis.

The EMT was deployed to Cox’s Bazar for six weeks, where clinicians will work using existing health facilities. This will include 36 NHS medics, such as doctors, nurses and epidemiologists who will provide immediate specialist life-saving care to tackle the diphtheria outbreak, as well as around five logistics staff from UK fire and rescue services who will provide expert advice to create the right infrastructure for the EMT to start their urgent work.

The UK’s support will strengthen the capacity of the Government of Bangladesh and NGOs to manage future outbreaks.

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