IOM Medical Consultations Hit 500,000 as Demand for Healthcare Spikes in Waterlogged Rohingya Refugee Camps

Humanitarian Emergencies, Migration Health, Rohingya Crisis

Cox’s Bazar – UN Migration Agency medical staff in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, have now carried out over half a million consultations since the Rohingya refugee crisis began nearly a year ago, as monsoon conditions sparked the busiest week of the year for doctors and nurses working in the camps.

Over 16,850 people have sought treatment from IOM in the past week. Among those who battled torrential rain and mud to reach IOM medical facilities were emergency cases suffering from fevers, flu, injuries caused by accidents in the camp, acute abdominal disorders, kidney problems, and pregnancy-related health issues.

With one clinic temporarily closed due to flooding, IOM mobile medical teams have also been in action over the past week, operating from a school and treating 440 patients over five days.

Almost a million Rohingya refugees now live in Cox’s Bazar in what has become the world’s biggest refugee settlement. Violence in Myanmar has caused over 700,000 people to flee across the border to Bangladesh’s southernmost district since August 2017.

As the number of consultations continues to rise, patients explained how they had come to rely on health services provided by IOM over the past year.

Among those attending an IOM clinic this week was Noor Haba, who brought her two-year-old son to see doctors because he was suffering from a fever and a severe cough. She lives ten minutes from the facility in Balukhali camp and said it was her fifth visit to the clinic for herself or her children in the past year.

“It’s a relief to know this clinic is here, because the consultation is free and the staff are kind. I’ve told my friends and neighbors this is the best place to come,” she said.

IOM is one of the biggest medical providers in the Rohingya refugee camps and offers specialized services, including ultrasound, which are helping to save lives.

 “In the past month, we have carried out over 200 ultrasonography tests at our clinic in Kutupalong at the heart of the mega-camp. Patients have been referred from all over the camps as well as from the local Bangladeshi community,” said Dr Raisul Islam, lead doctor at the facility.

“These services can and do save lives. Just last week we carried out an ultrasound examination of a pregnant women and identified that her baby was lying in a transverse – that is sideways – position. If this had gone undiagnosed and unaddressed, both the mother and baby’s life would have been in danger. That same morning, we also used the ultrasound to diagnose a man with kidney stones, a woman with acute abdominal pain, and another woman who was pregnant and needed to be transferred for a caesarian section,” he added.

But with major funding shortages continuing to impact on humanitarian support across the camps, the future of health care for hundreds of thousands of refugees, as well as people living in local villages served by IOM, remains precarious.

“While we are delighted that so many people are aware of IOM medical services and choosing to come here, the sheer scale of the demand is inevitably putting pressure on staff and resources, including our ability to refer patients for specialist and emergency treatment,” said Dr. Andrew Mbala, IOM’s emergency health programme coordinator in Cox’s Bazar.

IOM currently supports 23 medical facilities across Cox’s Bazar. It is the main provider of ambulance services across the camps and plays a key role in ensuring people can access urgent medical treatment 24 hours a day.

For more information please contact Fiona MacGregor at IOM Cox's Bazar, Tel. +8801733335221, Email:

  • Families wait for treatment at an IOM medical clinic in the Kutupalong Rohingya refugee camp, Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. Photo: Lydia Moore / IOM 2018

  • A Rohingya refugee mother and baby attend a consultation at an IOM health clinic in Cox’s Bazar. Photo: Lydia Moore / IOM 2018

  • Ultrasound services provided by an IOM clinic in Cox’s Bazar are saving lives. Photo: Lydia Moore/IOM 2018

  • A Rohingya refugee mother and baby attend a consultation at an IOM health clinic in Cox’s Bazar. Photo: Lydia Moore / IOM 2018