Aid groups are scrambling to control the spread of diseases among Rohingya refugees in Bangladeshi border camps, with a massive immunisation program underway to treat 150,000 children.
- Vaccination campaign targets measles, rubella and polio in children under 15
- UNICEF is appealing to Australian Government and community for help
- Many children are arriving in Bangladesh without parents and at risk of disease
UNICEF Australia is just one of many non-government organisations that has sent a team to see firsthand the situation facing the 400,000 Rohingya Muslims who have fled to Bangladesh from violence in western Myanmar.
UNICEF Australia's Oliver White is in one of the those camps and says a massive immunisation program is underway to help prevent diseases spreading.
"It is unprecedented. What has struck us most is the huge number of children, women and the elderly," Mr White said.
"Those three groups make up 80 to 90 per cent of all those displaced in Bangladesh."
Mr White said disease was one area UNICEF, along with the Bangladesh Department of Health, was trying to get on top of.
A vaccination campaign against measles, rubella and polio is underway this week to immunise 150,000 Rohingya children below the age of 15.
"We are working with the Government of Bangladesh, the World Health Organisation and others to stop diseases spreading in such unsanitary conditions," Mr White said.
He said it was critical the international community stepped up its efforts to help the refugees.
"[Bangladesh is] doing its very best, it's working with UN agencies, but the needs are just so huge and that is why we are appealing to the Australian community and the Australian Government to give generously," Mr White said.
Child-friendly spaces created
Mr White said many children had either been separated from their families or their parents had been killed in the violence in Myanmar.
"There is over 1,200 unaccompanied children literally standing by the side of the road. They are incredibly vulnerable. Young girls at risk of forced marriage and trafficking," he said.
Mr White said child-friendly spaces were being created.
"Most importantly they need a safe place to sleep, so we are setting up areas they can come to and be with other children to play."
Mr White called on the international community, including Australia to step up its efforts.
"Many of these children who have fled conflict and persecution and have arrived in Bangladesh seeking safety will die from malnutrition, sickness and disease."
The Australian Government has donated $5 million to help the Rohingya refugees, with $4 million going to Bangladesh and the remaining money to the Red Cross inside Myanmar.