Vitamin-A campaign for Rohingya children goes door-to-door due to COVID-19

A month-long Nutrition Action Week campaign was rolled out, adapted to the risks during a global pandemic

By Rashad Wajahat Lateef
Bangladesh. A red Vitamin-A supplement pill being administered to a 4-year-old Rohingya child
UNICEF Bangladesh/2020/Lateef
06 September 2020

As COVID-19 continues to affect millions around the globe, the Rohingya refugees living in the world’s largest and most densely populated refugee camps remain one of the most vulnerable groups.  

UNICEF is working with partners on the ground to ensure that the Rohingya children in these camps remain healthy and that their guardians and caregivers have adequate information on COVID-19 and how to keep their families safe.

Īn July 2020, a four-week Vitamin-A supplementation campaign strengthened the immune systems of more than 154,000 Rohingya children aged 6 months to 5 years, while screening these children for acute malnutrition and disseminating messages on infant and young child feeding and caring practices in the context of COVID-19.

Bangladesh. A Rohingya refugee camps
UNICEF Bangladesh/2020/Lateef
Continuous monsoon rains destabilize the Rohingya camps in several ways including the integrity of the shelters and the soil upon which they are built.

In a typical year, a Nutrition Action Week (NAW) is conducted biannually by UNICEF and the Nutrition Sector in order to regularly deliver Vitamin-A supplements and screen children for acute malnutrition. However, due to the current risks associated with large gatherings, this campaign has adapted to better fit the challenges and context of COVID-19.

“We had to work with our implementing partners to quickly modify our plans for NAW this year,” says Karanveer Singh, UNICEF Nutrition Manager in Cox’s Bazar. “A month-long door-to-door campaign was rolled out in order to better protect everyone involved. This is one of the few Vitamin-A supplementation campaigns being conducted in the world during the pandemic. Our results from this campaign have shown remarkable achievement considering the current risks compounded by the heavy monsoon rainfall in the Rohingya camps, we have reached 97 per cent of children aged 6-59 months.”

Bangladesh. A UNICEF supported Community Volunteer goes door to door administering Vitamin-A
UNICEF Bangladesh/2020/Lateef
A UNICEF supported Community Volunteer goes door to door administering Vitamin-A.

In addition to administering the Vitamin-A supplements and malnutrition screenings, the community volunteers who went door-to-door also provided the households with vital nutrition-related messages. These include awareness on the dangers of malnutrition and counselling on actionable steps to prevent their children from succumbing to it.

Bangladesh. A Rohingya child suffering from severe acute malnutrition.
UNICEF/UN0146005/LeMoyne
A child suffering from severe acute malnutrition sleeps in his mother’s lap as they wait for a consultation at a UNICEF supported outpatient therapeutic feeding programme centre.

Malnutrition in children can have lasting effects if left untreated and increases the risk of dying by manifold. The damage from malnourishment to a child’s physical and cognitive development during the first two years of their life is mostly permanent. It is imperitive that the parents and caregivers in a refugee crisis are aware of these lifelong consequences to their children’s health and wellbeing while they remain in an environment where resources are limited.

Bangladesh. An Rohingya infant in his mother’s arms has his mid-upper arm circumference measured.
UNICEF Bangladesh/2018/Sujan
An infant in his mother’s arms has his mid-upper arm circumference measured.

Mothers and primary caregivers were counselled on breastfeeding and proper age-appropriate feeding practices for their infants and young children. They were also trained on how to measure the circumference of their child’s mid-upper arm (MUAC), which is an indicator for a child’s nutrition status. Mother-led measurement of MUAC has been introduced in the camps to ensure that young children are screened at home to contain the possible impact of the pandemic.

Bangladesh. A Rohingya child’s arm being measured as part of the acute malnutrition screening process.
UNICEF Bangladesh/2020/Lateef
A child’s arm being measured as part of the acute malnutrition screening process.

Due to restrictions to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 in the camps, there is limited presence of humanitarian workers. Over 21,300 children with acute malnutrition were identified through the screening process as a part of this campaign. More than 7,000 of them were entirely new cases.

Bangladesh. A red Vitamin-A supplement pill being administered to a 2-year-old Rohingya child
UNICEF Bangladesh/2020/Lateef
A red Vitamin-A supplement pill being administered to a 2-year-old child.

“My family did not know about the coronavirus before [the community volunteers] told us about it,” shares Jahanara Begum, mother of a four-year-old. “I am glad they come by to see my son, so I can know that he is strong. I know that if he is strong, he can fight any disease.”

Bangladesh. Jahanara Begum holding her son after his acute malnutrition screening.
UNICEF Bangladesh/2020/Lateef
Jahanara Begum holding her son after his acute malnutrition screening.

Jahanara Begum and many others like her have not only benefited from Vitamin-A supplementation but also got access to life-saving information about the coronavirus.

As UNICEF works to address this issue through community awareness, it is also vital that these children remain strong enough to survive any disease, not only COVID-19.