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Young Rohingya wasting away in Rakhine camps

Insufficient food and poor health services take their toll

Young Rohingya wasting away in Rakhine camps

Mahmud Sultan, 17, suffers from rheumatoid arthritis. Since 2012, he has been in Kaung Doke Khar Camp for internally displaced people near Sittwe, the capital of Rakhine State. (ucanews.com photo)

Mahmud Sultan, 17, spends most of his time in bed or sitting on a chair in a small makeshift hut in a camp for internally displaced people (IDP) near Sittwe, the capital of Myanmar's Rakhine State.

For the past four years, Sultan has suffered rheumatoid arthritis. During an interview with ucanews.com he appeared in constant discomfort.  

"He can't walk properly and we have to feed him because he can't do it himself due to severe pain," said Mohammad Salin, the teenager's father.

Salin, a Rohingya Muslim father of four, said his son spends most of his time in bed and he is unable to wander around like other youths in Kaung Doke Khar IDP camp which holds some 2,200 people.

Sultan feels most of the pain in his hands and legs. He is underweight and appears malnourished.

Salin said his son has taken medicines prescribed by an INGO-run clinic in the camp but they have had little effect.

Sultan's family can't afford to send him to the government-run Sittwe General Hospital for a more thorough medical examination.

"We totally rely on food rations provided by INGOs and we have no jobs, so we have no extra money and the only option for his treatment is the primary healthcare service in the camp," said Salin.

Sultan's family was forced to flee their home in Nazi village in June 2012 following an outbreak of sectarian violence. In Rakhine State, more than 120,000 Rohingya now live in  squalid IDP camps with apartheid-like conditions.

A 10-year-old girl, Sumita, spent three months in bed this year due to malnutrition. She is tall but underweight and can't walk properly.  

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"We bring my daughter to the camp clinic. It is our only option for primary healthcare services," said Mamus Suda, Sumita's father.

The young girl's family are confined to Mon Sonywa IDP camp with 4,000 other Rohingya after fleeing their village five years ago.

Sumita, 10, suffers from malnutrition, an increasingly common condition in Maw Sonya IDP camp near Sittwe. (ucanews.com photo)


Stunted and underweight

Movement restrictions, language difficulties, inability to pay, limited availability of services in camps and the refusal of some health facilities to treat Muslim patients, all contribute to the poor health conditions of the Rohingya in the camps, said a report by an advisory commission chaired by former-U.N. chief Kofi Annan.

Stress among IDPs in the camps has further heightened after a Rohingya militant group attacked several border posts in the state's north on Aug. 25 that led to the military clearance operations in the region. Since then, more than 500,000 Rohingya have poured into neighboring Bangladesh as refugees. The violence in northern Rakhine has led to a disruption of humanitarian activities in northern and central Rakhine regions.

As a result, many in the camps have not received their normal food assistance and primary healthcare care services. Camp-based Rohingya told ucanews.com that they are yet to receive their September food rations from the World Food Program (WFP).

NGO medical staff and doctors from the government-run hospital are said to have only visited camps three times since Aug. 25.

Meanwhile, staff from international aid organizations are wary of visiting densely populated camps due to hostilities toward aid groups from local-Buddhists after Aung San Suu Kyi's office published pictures of the WFP energy biscuits allegedly found at Rohingya militant camps.

The nutrition of children in Rakhine State is the worst in Myanmar, according to the advisory commission report. An estimated 38 percent of children are stunted and 34 percent are underweight. Widespread poverty, exacerbated by conflict, has resulted in protracted trends of both acute and chronic malnutrition across the state, said the report.

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