by Nat Crewe; DRG Team Leader
Cox’s Bazaar, Bangladesh
As planned, we headed deep into Kutapalong Camp to find an elderly patient that required a stretcher carry out to the Red Cross clinic. Alambar is 70 years old and has been in the camp for 2 months. She has hardly eaten in all that time, and is woefully thin. In spite of her terribly low body weight, the rest of her health is somehow holding up.
Dr Kate has spoken to her on a couple of occasions now, and has diagnosed her with severe depression. Not surprisingly, this crisis has taken a heavy mental health toll on the Rohingya people. Their scars are not just physical, but are etched deep in their minds and hearts too. Kate has been just as busy as us. The stretcher wasn’t heavy – Alambar weighs next to nothing – but is was an arduous journey, up and down little hills, through dirty streams and muddy fields, around five kilometers in total. Thankfully, we got her safely to the clinic where she was received with warmth and care.
After drinking litre-upon-litre of water, the team went straight back out into Kutapalong . The fringes of this camp are grossly neglected and underserved. Within minutes Amy, Dr Kate and I had identified a critically ill 1 month old girl. The bub – the eldest of a set of twins – was struggling so hard to breath it was possible to see her skin being pulled in between her ribs in the effort. She was exhausted and was able to take milk without vomiting.
We made preparations to transport her to the clinic straight away. As we were leaving the hut, we were presented with a 3.5 month old girl, Husna, who had been accidentally dropped 7 days prior. She had not been taken to a clinic, although there was a real chance she had fractured her leg. We transported her and the twins immediately to the Red Cross clinic.
Meanwhile, Simon, Mel, Shane and Lily had been walking and treating throughout the western fringes of Kutapalong. Among their patients was a severely ill child that was presenting with measles as well as diarrhoea so bad that her buttocks were red raw and infected. Shane and Mel took her straight to the isolation ward at the MSF clinic.
Our last task for the day was to help out the Red Cross with a transfer of a 11year old girl, Toslima, that had started to lose power to her legs 2-3 weeks ago, and was now totally flaccid below the waist, was stiff in her neck and could hardly move her arms. They were unsure of the cause, but couldn’t rule out polio. It was decided that she would need extensive tests that were outside the scope of the incredible Red Cross/Crescent field hospital.
It is not easy to transport a Rohingya out of the camps, let alone get them into a Bangladeshi hospital – but we had to take the risk. So we put Toslima in the very back of our van, which fortunately has blacked out windows. She was propped us between myself and her doting father, who held her all the way. We have been coming and going so much now from Cox’s Bazar, that they no longer bother with us at the checkpoints. But we still had to be cautious. We got through unhindered, then Simon and Kate worked their magic once we arrived at the public hospital, and she was admitted immediately. To their credit, there is a ward just for Rohingya refugees (which goes against the ‘official’ regulations of Bangladesh).
I can’t begin to describe what this hospital is like, but it’s an assault on the senses and stretches credibility. But they do what they can, for free, for as many people that they can.
There is so much to do out there. Every day has been a HUGE day thus far, but we are going to have to dig even deeper and make our last 5 field days count.
If you would like to help our mission, you can donate to the Backpacker Medics cause here: https://chuffed.org/project/bpmdrg-bangladesh#/supporters