Solar Power Brings 24-Hour Healthcare to Rohingya Refugees, Local Communities in Bangladesh

A Rohingya refugee waits in IOM's Kutupalong health post with her young child. Photo: Olivia Headon/IOM 2017

Cox’s Bazar – IOM, the UN Migration Agency, is harnessing solar energy to power its remote health posts in Cox’s Bazar’s giant Kutupalong and Balukali makeshift settlements, which are now home to an estimated 440,000 Rohingya refugees from Myanmar. 

Violence in Myanmar’s Rakhine State has forced over 620,000 refugees to flee to Bangladesh since August 25th, bringing the total number of people seeking safety in the Cox’s Bazar settlements to over 833,000.  

Many of the new arrivals and those already living in the settlements, as well as local communities, are desperately in need of healthcare. 

Prior to the latest influx of refugees, IOM coordinated the work of agencies working in the health sector, in close collaboration with the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Bangladeshi Ministry of Health and Family Welfare. 

As people have flooded into the settlements over the past three months, pressure on the health sector has steadily risen. Since August 25th, IOM has carried out over 75,000 health consultations for both Rohingya refugees and the local community in Teknaf and Ukhiya sub-districts (upazilas). In October alone, over 3,865 women received pregnancy-related care, including 3,030 antenatal care, 525 postnatal care and 310 deliveries. 

Prior to the introduction of solar power, IOM's healthcare teams were confined to working during daylight hours, because the lack of lighting made it impossible to provide patient care from dusk to dawn. A plan for a 24-hour care system is now being developed.

The new energy supply also powers wells and water purifications systems, ensuring clean water is available at the health posts. It also means that the health posts are not affected by power cuts and that patients can charge their phones while they wait.

The introduction of solar energy was made possible through the support of Solevolt, a solar energy company, Kopernik, a non-profit organization that distributes low-cost technologies to recipients in less-developed countries, and BPO Data Exchange, a Bangladeshi Social Enterprise.  

“As the demand for our healthcare services increases, solar-powered lighting means we can provide round the clock emergency consultations and medicine distributions," explained Mariam Abdelkerim-Spijkerman, the IOM Emergency Health Officer in Cox's Bazar. "The health needs of the refugees are immense - providing 24-hour lighting helps save lives,” she added. 

IOM's health clinic in Leda, a village where Rohingya refugees have been settling south of the main settlements, also uses solar power as a back-up source of electricity, ensuring that the clinic never has power outages. 

With increasing needs, IOM is focused on scaling up health services provision to meet immediate needs in the existing settlements, and the needs of those settling further away from existing services. The main challenge in the new settlements remains the lack of road access.

IOM currently supports 13 health facilities, seven mobile medical teams (six in Ukhiya and one in Teknaf) and ten ambulances for transporting urgent and emergency cases. In collaboration with partners, it also works with over 350 community health workers throughout Cox's Bazar.

The humanitarian community is now responding to the needs of over 833,000 Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, including new arrivals and people who had fled following previous outbreaks of violence. IOM has appealed for USD 120 million to meet the needs of the most vulnerable refugees and the Bangladeshi communities hosting them through February 2018. This includes USD 9 million for health. You can find out more about the appeal here

IOM's health response in Cox’s Bazar is currently funded by the UN Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF), the US State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM), the European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO), the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida), and the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID).

For more information, please contact Olivia Headon at IOM Cox’s Bazar, Tel: +8801733335221, Email: