Sudden measles outbreak in Sajek & Lama, 300 infected, 7 children died

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Hill Voice, 22 March 2020, Chittagong Hill Tracts:  Very recently there has suddenly come to light the fact of extensive outbreak of measles at remote Jumma villages at Sajek union under Baghaichari upazila of Rangamati hill district and at Lama union under Lama upazila of Bandarban hill district in Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT). Only within a month, at least 300 people have reportedly been infected and 7 children were tragically died from it. There has been created a deep concern over this. In fact, there is a pathetic picture of being deprived of indigenous Jummas of civil rights and health care at remote hilly areas has been exposed through this occurrence.

It is learnt that at least 250 Jumma villagers at six villages of Sajek union under Baghaichari upazila (sub-district) of Rangamati Hill District alone have been infected by measles. Most of them are children. Of them Arunpara is the mostly affected village. Six children of this village have died between only twenty days. The six dead children were identified as follows:

  1. Ms, Sagorika Tripura (11 years), daughter of Mr. Sujan Tripura, village- Arunpara on 26 February 2020;
  2. Dinesh Tripura Bishon (2 years 6 months), son of Mr. Mohendra Tripura, village- Arunpara on 15 March 2020;
  3. Rujina Tripura (3 years), daughter of Mr. Monar Mohan Tripura, village- Arunpara on 16 March 2020;
  4. Kohen Tripura (3 years 6 months), son of Mr. Biboron Tripura, village- Arunpara on 17 March 2020;
  5. Rakesh Tripura (2 years), son of Mr. Krishna Mohan Tripura, village- Arunpara on 17 March 2020 and
  6. Devi Tripura (one and half month), daughter of Mr. Krishna Mohan Tripura, village- Arunpara on 17 March 2020.

Affected other villages are Lungthian Para, Tarun Tripura Para, Kamalapur Chakma Para, New Thang/Natun Para, Haichcha Para etc.

It is also learnt that at least 100 victims among the infected children and 7-8 aged persons are still in serious condition at remote villages of Sajek. The villagers alleged that the children of their villages were never vaccinated and they have never received any government health care till the day. They said ‘No doctor visits over there as the area is difficult to access. It is worth to be mentioned that people of villages, specially the children are reportedly obliged to stay in extreme malnutrition due to socio-economic miseries and lack of government-nongovernment facilities and assistances.

It is reported that after the news of measles outbreak has spread, a group of health care activists of upazila health and family planning department of Baghaichari upazila went to the affected areas and vaccinated 285 children under 15 years old. However, in such serious outbreak, only the vaccinating is not enough. Along with this, it is also necessary to provide close health care and nutritious food to the ill children and persons until full recovery. Side by side, it is also indispensable to take up a provision to ensure permanent health care in these areas.

It is also learnt that children are so weak due to malnutrition that they are not being able to get well as expected even after they are vaccinated. There is no provision of oxygen supply available, even though oxygen is necessary in emergency treatment of the very weak children.

It is also worthy to be mentioned that in May of 2015 seven persons of that same area died by being infected in air-borne disease.

On the other hand, recently at about same time, also at Lalyapara village populated by Mro community of a remote area of Lama Sadar union under Lama upazila of Bandarban Hill District, a 4-year old Mro Child died of the measles outbreak and around 42 were infected in it, among whom 33 were children.

On 16 March 2020, of the infected, 31 children and 2 adult youths were reportedly admitted to Lama Upazila Health Complex taking them Lalyapara village by tractors.

It is learnt that only two weeks ago two-three children were infected with the disease at the village. After that, it spread in the village quickly. While at the first time the victim villagers sought advice and medicine from local pharmacies and health care activists, pharmacy men and health care activists claimed it to be a ‘unknown disease’. Needless to say, it is lerant that no government health services reached more many remote areas of Bandarban including Lalyapara according to the villagers.

It is worth mentioning that food crisis or famine has broken out throughout the Sajek valley under Baghaichari Upazila of Rangamati Hill District severely affecting at least 45 villages mostly located in the hardly accessible areas. Some 2500 lives of 500 families living in 45 villages have fallen prey to the food crisis. The local people inform that some of the affected villages under Baghaichari Upazila are: Udolchari, New Zopui, Old Zopui, New Thangmang, New Lonkar, Betling Para, Betling Tarung Para, Kamalapur, Longtyang, Arun Para, Kachya Para, Sialdai, Gondachara, Thalchara, Egajyachari, Mono Adam, Dhab Adam, Kolok Para, Badolchari, Nimui Para, Hagara Hijing, Duluchari, Dulbonya, etc. localities. Besides, around 300 families of remote areas of Baghaichari union under Baghaichari upazila were affected by the food crisis.

Sajek is a very inaccessible area populated by the indigenous Jumma peoples. The Jumma inhabitants of this area chiefly depend on traditional ‘Jum’ cultivation or ‘shifting cultivation’. Usually, they are capable of producing food grains for a period of at the best 6 to 9 months in each year. For the next 3 to 6 months, the whole area remains under the grip of food crisis. Generally, the food crisis continues to prevail from March-April to July-August. When the paddy in the Jum plots gets matured for harvesting, the food deficiency gradually gets disappeared only to reoccur again. This has had an extreme affect to availability of food. The women and children have become the sufferers to their worst in this crisis including mal-nutrition.

It is further to be mentioned that in 2012, food crisis hit the indigenous peoples of Sajek of Baghaichari, Bilaichari and Jurachari upazilas of Rangamati; and Thanchi and Ruma upazilas of Bandarban. Around 6,500 affected families were brought under a relief package for six months at that time. But since 2013 until last year, many Jum farmer families in the hinterland of Thanchi upazila abandoned their ancestral homesteads and went east in search of deliverance from starvation and debt.

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