Tackling Scabies Outbreak in Bangladesh

Scabies, a skin infestation, can burrow into human skin and cause itching and inflammation. In Bangladesh, scabies is a major public health concern, especially in the overcrowded refugee camps [2] where the mites can easily spread from person to person through close contact or shared items. These complications can have severe consequences for the affected individuals, such as increased risk of bacterial infections [1] and impaired quality of life. Therefore, scabies is not only a skin disease, but also a serious neglected tropical disease that demands proper intervention.
Tackling Scabies Outbreak in Bangladesh
Scabies is a major public health concern, especially in the overcrowded refugee camps.

Recent outbreak data of scabies

In Cox’s Bazar, home to one of the world’s largest refugee settlements [2], scabies has reached alarming levels. An estimated 40% of the camp’s population is affected, with some areas reporting a prevalence as high as 70% [2]. Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has treated nearly 70,000 patients for scabies between January and May, a figure that nearly doubles the count from the same period in the previous year [2]. 

How humans are affected by scabies

Scabies can lead to severe physical discomfort and psychological distress. Sufferers often experience sleepless nights due to incessant itching [2], particularly troubling for children and the elderly. The outbreak also exacerbates existing challenges within the camps, including limited access to healthcare and sanitation facilities [2]. It’s an alarming situation as no one should have to endure such indignity, especially in the midst of a humanitarian crisis.

Efforts to control the spread by governments

Addressing the outbreak requires more than just medical treatment. Interventions, which include personal hygiene practices, health education, and improved access to treatment [3], can significantly reduce the prevalence of scabies. These interventions are commendable and highlight a holistic approach to tackling scabies. However, we believe it needs to be scaled up promptly to reach more vulnerable populations within the camps.

Tackling Scabies Outbreak in Bangladesh
Scabies can lead to severe physical discomfort and psychological distress. Sufferers often experience sleepless nights due to incessant itching.

Glimmers of hope

Despite the challenges, there are promising developments. The government and healthcare manufacturers are intensifying their efforts to address scabies. 

A study in urban Bangladesh madrasahs demonstrated a cost-effective scabies control program. This intervention included mass treatment with 5% permethrin cream, daily hygiene monitoring, weekly health education, and preventive measures against cross-infestation, resulting in a significant reduction of scabies prevalence from 61% to 5% in the intervention group [3].

The program also focused on improving scabies knowledge among students. Pre-intervention test scores averaged at 40%, which soared to 99% post-intervention [3], indicating a substantial increase in awareness and understanding of the disease. Remarkably, the cost of this comprehensive program was only USD 1.60 per student [3], highlighting its affordability and potential for scalability to other infected areas.

In conclusion, more support is needed from the international community to address the root causes of this crisis, such as the overcrowding and the persecution of the Rohingya people in Bangladesh refugee camps. However, we believe that with concerted efforts, it can lead to effective control and eventual eradication of scabies.

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[1] CDC - Scabies. (n.d.). https://www.cdc.gov/parasites/scabies/gen_info/faqs.html
[2] Australia, M. S. F. (n.d.). Bangladesh: Urgent response needed for scabies outbreak in Cox’s Bazar refugee camps. 1Médecins Sans Frontières Australia | Doctors Without Borders. https://msf.org.au/article/project-news/bangladesh-urgent-response-needed-scabies-outbreak-coxs-bazar-refugee-camps
[3] Talukder, K., Talukder, M. Q., Farooque, M. G., Khairul, M., Sharmin, F., Jerin, I., & Rahman, M. A. (2013). Controlling scabies in madrasahs (Islamic religious schools) in Bangladesh. Public health, 127(1), 83–91. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.puhe.2012.09.004

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