A RECENT report highlighted the plight of 23 Rohingya teenagers who were trafficked and rescued after being taken from refugee camps to Malaysia.
The exodus of 600,000 Rohingya from Myanmar to Bangladesh following a military crackdown in 2017 has led to overflowing refugee camps.
Most refugees live in desperate conditions, with limited access to food, sanitation and healthcare.
The fast-growing population in refugee camps, with more than 20,000 Rohingyan women being pregnant, renders family planning an urgent matter to attend to.
The introduction of contraceptives has been met with resistance from the majority of the Rohingya, due to their religious background that does not support contraception.
The family planning service department in refugee camps reported that there was little awareness of birth control.
Most families practise polygamy and are large, with up to 19 children.
Access to food and water remains a daily battle at the camps and children are often assigned to fetch and carry supplies.
The perception of a mushrooming Rohingya population elicits socio-economic tensions between the Rohingya and locals.
To alleviate birth-related issues among the Rohingya, medical teams commissioned by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees or voluntary organisations advocate healthcare provision to pregnant mothers and babies.
Maternity care and pregnancy checks are made available at refugee centres in Bangladesh. Mobile clinics offer nutrition aid for children and sanitary items for women.
The district family planning authorities in Bangladesh distribute condoms to refugees.
A domestic sterilisation programme has been implemented, where cash and a gift are given to men who agree to a vasectomy. An average of eight men a day undergo sterilisation in Cox’s Bazar.
Unlike condoms, surgical birth control does not protect people from sexually-transmitted diseases.
Nevertheless, sterilisation is effective in the long term. As such, voluntary sterilisation should be advocated in Rohingya camps.
This birth control measure, though it may not be well accepted, is hoped to reduce child labour, forced child marriage and sexual exploitation.
It is especially needed in the Rohingya context due to low levels of condom use.
DR LONG CHIAU MING
Faculty of Pharmacy, Quest International University
PROFESSOR DR WONG TIN WUI
Non-Destructive Biomedical and Pharmaceutical Research Centre, iPROMISE, Universiti Teknologi Mara
SOH YEE CHANG
Jeffrey Cheah School of Medicine and Health Sciences, Monash University, Malaysia