More than 40 British medical staff have departed for Bangladesh to tackle an outbreak of diphtheria among Rohingya refugees, including Derek Sloan, a Fife physician and consultant at the University of St Andrews.

Sloan is a consultant physician of infectious diseases at the University and a member of the United Kingdom’s emergency medical team, or EMT. While Sloan usually works in Fife, he has experience of working in the field.

The mission in Bangladesh is the first deployment of Britain’s EMT, which is being funded by the department for international development’s Bangladesh humanitarian budget.

The staff will be dealing with the current situation and finding treatments for diphtheria, a fast-spreading disease which affects the nose and throat and can ultimately cause difficulty breathing, paralysis, heart failure, and death. The disease is rare in the UK.

The World Health Organisation and Bangladeshi government requested assistance to deal with this health crisis, which has currently seen over 2,000 cases and about 27 deaths, with the majority affected aged between five and 14.

There are reportedly 160 new cases of diphtheria every day in Cox’s Bazar, with that number expected to rise in the new year.

Sloan believes one of the reasons for the outbreak is a combination of the unsanitary conditions of the refugees’ camps and their living in such close proximity with each other.

The refugees fled persecution in Burma from the Burmese military. The United Nations described the military’s actions in Rakhine, the refugees’ native state, as a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing.”

Approximately 620,000 Rohingya fled to Bangladesh and now reside in camps in Cox’s Bazar, a Bangladeshi fishing port.

The British EMT, which includes doctors, nurses, and firefighters, will be working in Bangladesh for six weeks.

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