The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) has launched a project in Cox's Bazar to produce 6,000 washable cloth masks for frontline personnel, who have been working with the UN body to raise awareness against the disease and communicate ways to avoid infection.
The frontline workers include the Cyclone Preparedness volunteers and Fire Service and Civil Defence personnel.
Under the initiative, the IOM has provided 14 sewing machines to the its NGO partner Nongor hub at Shamlapur area of Teknaf. A total 35 people – including 25 women – are now making masks.
The masks will also be distributed to Village Development Police from Cox's Bazar Sadar, Ramu, Moheshkhali, Ukhiya and Teknaf upazilas, said a press release issued by the IOM on Tuesday.
The IOM, Nongor and Prottyashi, partner NGOs (non-government organisation) which has set up operations in the Teknaf and Ukhiya areas of Cox's Bazar, have jointly launched the initiative.
The Directorate General of Health Services and the Cox's Bazar Civil Surgeon has approved the manufacturing of the masks, which will be distributed in coordination with the upazila administrations.
The Covid-19 pandemic poses a major threat to hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees and local community members in Cox's Bazar, which is home to one of the world's largest and most crowded refugee camps.
The rapid spread of the disease, which infected over 785,000 people and left over 37,800 dead across the globe so far, has led to a global shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE), particularly surgical and other type of masks, which are needed by health workers, patients and people coming into close contact with those who are sick, said the press release.
"These cloth masks, by minimizing person-to-person exposure, also support the efforts of the government and need to be combined with other measures such as regular hand washing and maintaining social distancing," said Patrick Charignon, IOM's head of Transition and Recovery in Cox's Bazar.
"This initiative is also a much-needed livelihood activity which supports vulnerable households headed by women, who are making the masks," he added.
Cox's Bazar Deputy Commissioner Md Kamal Hossain has welcomed the effort, and asked the IOM to coordinate with respective upazila administration offices to keep his staff up-to-date on the distribution process.
The IOM, with other UN agencies and NGOs, is working with the government to raise awareness and prepare the response for potential COVID-19 cases across Cox's Bazar. It is engaging with the district commissioner and the civil surgeon to ensure that the right messages are being shared with both Bangladeshi and Rohingya communities.
In addition to hygiene promotion, soap distribution and the installation of hand-washing stations will also be a key in preventing people from getting infected.
The IOM is also working to ensure that the health facilities that it supports in Cox's Bazar are equipped to cope with an expected influx of patients.
It is increasing the number of isolation beds in its two primary health care centres (to 44), procuring PPE for health workers, stockpiling medicine and training health workers.