Sudden Outbreak of Measles in Sajek and Lama: 8 Dead & 300 Infected

Very recently, sudden wide-scale outbreak of measles in the Sajek Union of Baghaichari Upazilla under Rangamati Hill District and Lama Union of Lama Upazilla under Bandarban Hill District has become a great concern. The natural calamity that began a month ago has infected at least 300 children and claimed heart-deploring death of 8 lives including one Mro child in Lama. This has triggered off a grave concern among the people living in the area. Indeed, this scenario portrays a pathetic picture of the indigenous Jumma people living in the inaccessible terrains under total deprivation of the government extended civic facilities and healthcare services.

Outbreak of Measles in Sajek:

It has been learnt that it is only in the 6 villages, some 250 villagers have come under measles attack. Of them, the lion portion is children. Of the affected villages, the worst is the condition with Arunpara village that falls under the inaccessible Tuichhui Mauza of Sajek valley. It has been only 20 days interval, 7 children including one dead on recently 23 March embraced death.

The 7 children of Arun Para who died of the decease are: on 26 February 2020, Sagorika Tripura (11) Daughter of Sujan Tripura; on 15 March 2020, Dinesh Tripura Bishon (11 months/2years 6 months); on 16 March 2020, Rijina Tripura (3 years), Daughter of Monar MohanTripura; on 17 March 2020, Kohen Tripura (1/3 years 6 months), son of Bibaran Tripura; on 17 March 2020, Rakesh Tripura (2 years) son of Krishna Mohan Tripura; on 17 March 2020, Debi Tripura (1 and a half months), daughter of Kesh Mohan Tripura and on 23 March 2020, Gorati Tripura (9).

The other infected villages are: Longthian Para, Kamalapur Chakma Para, Newthang/Natun Para, Haichya Para, etc.

It has also been learnt that of the infected in remote areas of Sajek valley, at least 100 children and 7-8 aged persons are lying stranded in critical condition as yet. The inhabitants are to allege that vaccine has never been given to the children of their villages and they have not received any government healthcare services. They informed that for being inaccessible, no health worker visits there. It is to be mentioned that due to socio-economic catastrophe and lack of government and non-government healthcare services, the villagers, especially, the children are obliged to stay under nourishment and medically unattended.

It has been learnt that after getting the news of measles outbreak spread, a healthcare team from the Upazila Health & Family Planning Department went there and vaccinated altogether 285 children below 15 years of age. However, only vaccination cannot be a sufficient measure in such critical epidemic situation. It is also a matter of urgency to provide intensive healthcare services and nutritious diet to the ailing children and aged patients until recovery. Alongside, it is also important to ensure permanent healthcare services in those areas. 

It is further known that due to malnourishment, the children are so weak that they are not fairly responding to the post-vaccination recovery. It is learnt that as there is no oxygen facility, in case of emergency with the extremely feeble children, though it necessitates, oxygen is not made available. 

It is learnt that there are at least 4 children who are still under critical condition. In addition to the measles, many children with diarrhea and pneumonia also suffer. Children all suffer from malnutrition. All children, from 6 months of age to 4 years old, have been vaccinated. It is reported that following sudden wide-scale outbreak of measles, a 4-member medical team comprising of EPI Programme Manager Dr. Mawola Box Chowdhury and Dr. Ariful Islam of World Health Organisation reached in Sajek area on 23 March 2020. Locals reported that all have been fed vitamin A capsules. Because, if you do not eat vitamin A, the infected child is at risk of becoming blind. The juice, nutritious food has been distributed by the Sajek Union Parishad as a nutritious meal.

Outbreak of Measles in Lama:

On the other hand, almost at the same time in the recent days, measles broke out in remote inaccessible areas in Lama Union of Lama Upazilla Sadar under Bandarban Hill District. The outbreak of measles in Lalyapara village,which is mostly dwelt by the Mro indigenous people, 1 Mro child aged 4 months died while 42 persons got infected of whom at least 33 were children.

It has been learnt that of the infected patients in Lalyapara village, 31 children and 2 adolescents were brought to the Upazilla Healthcare Complex by truck on 16 March 2020.

It has been also known that 2 – 3 children of the village got developed measles only 2 weeks earlier. Later, this got spread speedily throughout the village. The suffering villagers while approached to the pharmacies and healthcare service workers for medicines, the pharmacists and health workers claimed the disease to have been an “unknown disease.”

It is needless to cite that including the Lalyapara village, no government healthcare service reaches in many remote rural areas in the Bandarban Hill District.

Previous attack by diarrhea and food crisis in remote areas of CHT:

It is worth mentioning that in May 2015, 7 persons died of getting infected with the waterborne disease in Sajek area. Further, in 2017, a food crisis or famine broke out throughout the Sajek valley of Baghaichari Upazila under 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 fell prey to the food crisis. The local people informed that some of the affected villages under Baghaichari Upazila were: 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 Jumma families living in the 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. The people living therein live on the soft parts of the natural plantain trees during the famine.  The women and children are the most vulnerable prey to the food crisis. Malnutrition reigns the areas by then.

It is further to be mentioned that in 2012, food crisis hit the hill indigenous peoples of Sajek under Baghaichari, Bilaichari and Jurachari upazilas of Rangamati; and in Thanchi and Ruma upazilas of Bandarban Hill District. Around 6,500 affected families had to depend upon the relief package for six months at that time. Afterwards, since 2013 many marginalized Jum-cultivating families of Thanchi Upazilla had to face food crisis for several consecutive years and ultimately had to abandoned their ancestral homesteads and go into further deep side of the forest.