The very worst of humanity, from all angles.


by Nathan Burns, Founder

As the mid-afternoon sun beats down, we move through the far western blocks of Kutapalong refugee camp. The landscape resembles a Hollywood depiction of Mars – dusty, bare, ferociously hot. Sweat gushes from our foreheads in a constant stream and we’re moving slowly, but deliberately, guided by a rotating group of curious Rohingya.

The request comes casually- almost an afterthought in a constant stream of conversation between our brilliant interpreter, Mr Moslem, and the Rohingya.

“Would you mind coming to check on my wife?,” asks the gentleman, “She’s been sick for some time”.

And so, we head left and up, into the squeeze of temporary huts, shadowed by 30-40 curious minds with little else to do. As we stoop low and remove our packs to enter the hut, an oppressive wall of heat strikes our faces, raising the temperature by at least five degrees. In the oppressive heat cowers a young woman**- no older than 25, but its hard to tell as half her face is shielded by a scarf. A huge crowd crams around the doorway, straining for a look and eliminating any chance of airflow.

“This is my wife,” says the husband, “Would you please take a look?”.

Despite her immense shame, slowly the woman removes her scarf, revealing a hideously swollen and disfigured face. The entire left side of her head is bloated and taught – at least 2-3 times its normal size. Her eye socket is puckered inside this mass of swelling, her vision completely obscured. Spots of dried blood streak from below a dirty, poorly-applied dressing and have plastered her hair. Deep, yellowed bruising stains her entire face and pus seeps from the edges of the bandage.

She will not look up, but we must investigate so, gently, we lift her head and look into her one good eye. Shame pours from her gaze and the sadness of her condition is plain to see; now we must avert our eyes lest they fill with tears.

We set to work, almost unsure of where to start, but conscious that we must do something. We begin by peeling back the outer layers of the dressing and, as we do, we also unfold the woman’s patchy story.

Not long after fleeing to the refugee camps some eight weeks earlier, the woman presented to health services to have a facial tumor investigated. Somehow, she ended up in the hands of a doctor in Cox’s Bazar and had the tumor removed – a major surgical procedure. She was then discharged after 3 days with the instructions to “just remove the dressings after one week”. It had now been nine days and this poor woman could neither remove the bandages (for the gauze had adhered tightly to the dried blood around the wound site), nor would she leave the house for shame of being seen in such a state.

Now the complications of sub-standard after-care were evident for all to see. As we cut away the festering bandages, we revealed a terribly grotesque wound stretching from the corner of her eye to her ear. It appeared that her scalp had literally been hacked open, then pathetically sewn back together using heavy-guage sutures and little care. In places the edges of the wound barely met, in others the skin bunched in a swollen, infected ridge. With the sutures still in place the skin had begun to grow around the twine and infection had set in. Each place where the skin had been punctured now oozed with thick, yellow pus.


We worked slowly, methodically, carefully. In some cases we needed to incise tiny pieces of skin to remove debris; in others, the dressings had become part of the skin matrix and needed to be torn apart. Our hearts broke with every layer uncovered, with every new, horrible unveiling.

Through it all this brave, beautiful woman made hardly a sound. Her pain must have been immense, yet she barely winced, biting down on her scarf and enduring a process she knew to be essential. With her head resting in her husband’s lap and a small group of family members looking on, this woman placed her trust in a trio of western strangers and endured unspeakable pain, indescribable shame.


Whilst our patient lay suffering, our hearts and minds raged. We couldn’t shake the thought of what this poor woman had endured even to just get to the safety of this sweltering refugee camp. Now she had been treated in such a barbaric, inhumane way by those supposedly here to help her, to protect her.

Was it because she is a Rohingya? Or was it because someone well-meaning had paid for her operation and the hospital had seen this as a chance to profit from suffering? Or was it simply a case of standard third-world medicine.

Perhaps we will never know. What we do know, however, is that this brave woman will receive all our love and care whilst we are here.

After all, if we choose to do nothing, then we will take all the blame.

**Note: name has been deliberately withheld.


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Life on the fringes of suffering.


by Nathan Burns, Founder

Earlier in the day, in a high-level health sector meeting, we listened as bureaucrats squabbled over bragging rights for health posts in their region and used platitudes and jargon whilst hypothesising over which clinics should be closed to ‘consolidate services’. Numbers were flashed, reports printed on state-of-the-art colour printers were presented and I just watched, as paid humanitarians fought for their piece of the aid pie.

Meanwhile, life on the fringes of this suffering continues to unfold. It’s the end of the day now. A hot afternoon, and we’re standing on a hilltop looking back at the vast miasma of the Kutapalong Refugee camp. We’ve stopped in front of a makeshift shelter – a white tarpaulin, splashed with UNHCR insignia that is home to a family of seven. A cluster of children crowd the ‘entrance’ staring blankly at the strange white men. Their mother will not look at us; she averts her eyes and covers her face, ashamed at what her life has been reduced to.

Their shelter is located on the fringe of the camp, at the edge of a small grove of trees. Compared to the rest of the dusty, bare camp – it is relatively cool. A slight breeze blows through the area, rustling leaves and wafting smoke away.

It could almost be pleasant here, an idyllic little campsite on the edge of the forest.

But it’s far from ideal. This family are some of the stragglers – the last ones to make it into these massive, throbbing camps. They and hundreds of others have been bunkered down on the Myanmar border for weeks, cowering in fear until an opportunity presented itself to make the run into Bangladesh.

Their shelters are token; the bare minimum that UNHCR can provide and their surrounds are transient, at best. The cooling forest behind them will be gone in days, stripped bare by refugees searching for fuel to cook with. There are no basic services here on the fringes – no latrines, no running water, no medical posts. Their clothes are putrid, if they have any at all. The children are snotty and coughing and their bellies round with malnutrition.

The people on the fringes are suffering immensely. Meetings and printed presentations will not cut the mustard. For them the clock is ticking. 


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The Rohingya Crisis. Forget everything you thought you knew about human existence.

Nathan Burns, Founder.
Boy on First Day Nathan Burns

There is nothing that can prepare you for this. The sheer crush of human bodies, the frenzied existence, the vacant traumatized stares of children, the stench, the dust and the maggots swarming in the latrines.

There is no relief, not for any of the senses, let alone the heart. At every turn swarms life, cheek-and-jowl existence in the most literal sense, whole families crammed into stifling shelters, not a spare inch of land left unused.

It is approaching winter, yet the sun beats down relentlessly, baking the clay into which lives are carved. Dust plumes permeate every tiny corner, invading already violated lives. In a few weeks the second monsoon will come and wash away the toil – the harsh deluge tearing through narrow, hand-carved paths, and across the floors of makeshift homes.

Any attempt to capture the extent of these camps is futile. Mere months ago wild elephants trampled through these jungles on their way to find water, now the throng of almost 700,000 human feet lay the earth bare and lifeless. Stagnant, effluent-filled water pools in the gullies between dwellings, swarming with the refuse of a population in turmoil. Hand-pumped wells draw muddy, rancid, fluid from the ground, splattering the clothes of children as they watch idly. A man hawks loudly and spits beetle-nut into a purpose-dug pit. It spatters red against the sides and leaves a lasting impression that, most probably, this is also where the dead are buried.

A boy stands in the middle of the path, his eyes intent, his stare relentless, his suffering palpable. With his gaze, he questions: what kind of tragedy, what level of pain would you have to experience to flee your homeland to come and live like this? I take his picture, permanently capturing his intensity, his bravery, his existence.

Yet, it is he who has left the indelible mark.

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There will be days when you think…

As Team 3 prepares for the next mission in Bangladesh later this week, some of our Team 2 members who returned home a couple of weeks ago, have put some thoughts down on paper to describe what it meant to them to be a part of the BPM Team. We’ll publish a few of these over the coming days as we wait for Team 3 to arrive in CXB.


DRG2 Shane

There will be days when you think “I can’t do it today”.

The breakfast you eat will be nearly inedible after a few days. It’s exactly the same every day. You’ll crave fruit and salad but it’s Bengali Roulette to eat anything raw or washed. You need to be nearly paranoid with anything you touch and put near your mouth.

The smells from the latrines is overpowering. The flies thick. The noise constant. Water contamination likely. Dust when dry and thick heavy mud when wet. The drive to and from the camps is long and full of near misses. You will learn not to look out the windscreen and look out the window instead.

It will be hot, steaming humidity and relentless sun…you will carry more water than supplies every day, and drink more water and sweat more than you thought possible. Yet still feel a headache and thirst associated with dehydration. The tents are stifling and like ovens. Any physical exertion will be hampered by your sweat. It will sting your eyes, drip from your face and compromise your grip.

You will see and hear stories of despicable violence and heroic endurance that you cannot process. Witness injuries that should not have happened to anyone, especially children. Wonder how harsh their former existence was, that this new life is somehow better.

By days end, your muscles will ache and your clothes stink. Your sweat will leave white salt deposits on your clothes. Washing them in a bucket will clean them, however due to the humidity, they will still be wet in the morning. Beggars are present the moment you leave your hotel. They are constant and hard to ignore.

Restocking your bags for the next day is a task. Trying to foresee what you will need to take more of and remove what you may not use.  Yet leave enough room for water. Buying water to keep stocks up for the day, for you, your mates and some dehydrated people you treat.

The cleanliness of your room will be dubious.  The air stagnant. THE SHOWERS COLD. The bed hard. But it will be like a cloud at the end of the day. Mornings will be adorned with the Call to Prayer at 0448. With all the stray dogs howling in tune.

So, back to the days when you think “I can’t do it today”. When your alarm goes off…. you will lie there and feel every ache… every tired muscle and the growing unease of seeing everything again.

And then you will think of the kids with their smiles, walking with you and holding your hand. The adults bringing you a chair to sit on when you stop and offering you the little food they have to eat. The thanks in the eyes of those you treat and their families. The eagerness to help you as you go through the camps. A hand on your back as you cross a creek. Carrying your gear to help you when you tire. The children playing and laughing. The respect given to you by the big players. The honour of knowing you are one of a few Australian groups on the ground giving health care to these beautiful people. You think of the support from your family and friends back home. You think of the team with you and how you have a bond with them – they have your back and you have theirs.

All these thoughts will make you drag your sorry arse out of bed, get your backpack on, run down the stairs and get out there!

Sometimes you might wonder, what can one person like me actually do? If not a enough, it was something. I hear there are more and more aid agencies over there which means a lot more people doing a lot more somethings. I’m very grateful to have been a part of that. I’m very grateful that on the mornings I woke up and thought ‘I can’t’, I did. AS PART OF A TEAM, WE GOT SHIT DONE.



The DRG2 Team L-R back row: Shane, Alex, Simon and front row: Lily, Kate, Amy, Mel. 

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BPM in Bangladesh…what’s next??

After the successful return of DRG Team 2, many of our supporters have contacted us to ask “…what’s next?”.

IMG_2530This morning we are very pleased to announce that BPM will be deploying a third (and final) DRG team to Bangladesh, deploying on November 27th, 2017. 

This will be a dual-purpose team with the following objectives:

  1. Provide care to the sick and injured Rohingya population in the ever-growing refugee camps, continuing the excellent work of teams 1 & 2
  2. Train a team of Rohingya volunteers to act as a ‘camp ambulance’ (similar to our KRT project in Nepal), the aim of which is to connect patients with health services as they grow in the refugee camps.

The Rohingya Volunteer Ambulance Network (or “R-VAN”, for short) is our solution to a growing problem identified by Team 2. As the team went about their work (especially in the massive Kutapalong 2 camp- which now holds almost 450,000 people), it became increasingly apparent that there was a huge need for the creation of an ambulance network throughout the camps to treat and transport those that are simply too sick to make it to the health clinics.

IMG_2501Essentially, what Team 2 identified was a large – and growing – population which were not only presenting with acute problems resulting from violence and persecution, but also chronic ailments typical of all large populations.

Given the vastness of these camps and the incredibly taxing conditions, our team encountered patients who were becoming critically ill simply because they could not make it to suitable healthcare facilities.

The role of DRG Team 3 will be to work with our partners in Bangladesh (namely Care Intl. and Non-Violent Peace Force) to recruit a team of Rohingya volunteers and train them in basic first aid, patient assessment, extrication and transport. The initial team (around 20 volunteers) will be kitted-out with uniforms, First Aid kits, medical supplies and patient transport equipment (eg: stretchers).

IMG_0335The goal is to grow this team into a network capable of servicing the furthest reaches of the refugee camps. BPM will have an ongoing involvement with these teams in the coming months.

Of course, all this is made possible by the unbelievable support from YOU- our supporters! Please continue to spread the word of our work and keep in touch- your words of support and encouragement really do mean the world to us!!

If you would like to help our mission, you can donate to the Backpacker Medics cause here:

For media enquiries please contact Denny Dixon on 0407 160 771 or
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DRG Bangladesh Team 2: Field Report: 7th November, 2017 – Final Report

Last day in the field. And just like so many of our days, a mix of despair and joy. Our first job of the day was to pick up Abdul Karim, the elderly patient we had found with a chest drain in place. After driving him to the camp, Simon, Amy and I carried him the 1.5 km to his shelter. His chest drain is still in place, but cleaner and more secure. It will be there for the rest of his days, which sadly probably won’t be long.


Next it was a visit to Ibrahim, the paralysed gentleman who we have been visiting for the last couple of days. Simon secured a new catheter from the Red Cross Clinic and replaced the one Ibrahim had had for a while now. He was very grateful, but struggling with the knowledge that he may never walk again. We stayed with him as long as we could, talking through options and letting him know that his story had already touched so many people and that there were incredible people in the background determined to make his life a little easier. We assured him we wouldn’t desert him.  


We then joined Alex, Shane and Mel who had been busy attending patients in Jamtoli to the south. Our main man, Moslem, had heard of a number of patients who required attention, and they had been working their way through the list. There was nothing too serious and they moved even further south to Leda camp. We stayed with a young mum and her 7 day old baby boy. She had last 2 previous children, both at 7 days old. She was terrified that the same might happen to this one.  We spent some time educating her on how to swaddle her child while at the same time keeping the head free of blankets and wraps. We have noticed that many young bubs are wrapped and covered in such a way that their faces are covered in blankets as well as having blankets around their heads which they can easily turn their little faces into. I really hope mum takes our advice on board.

Our final patient of this mission was a young man Shane, Simon and Mel had come across a few days ago in Unchiprang. 18 yo Mohammed Yunus has had a tumour growing steadily on the side of his face over the last 5 years. It is beginning to impede his breathing and prevents him from eating solids. It is also becoming increasingly painful all the time. Mohammed had lost his entire family. He was befriended by another refugee on the arduous journey over to Bangladesh. He’s been with him ever since. The team would like to help everyone they meet, and solve every problem they encounter. But that’s impossible. But this is one situation that we can help with. We’ve already seen what it is possible to achieve  through our surgeon friend, Dr Badsha. We had shown him photos of Mohammed’s tumor, and he thinks he can help. Mel has generously donated the hefty deposit for the operation.  Simon, with funds he has raised through his GoFundMe page, along with Backpacker Medics, will cover the rest. It is an absolute pleasure to be able to finish this project on such a positive note, knowing that, even after we have gone, our contribution will still be changing and improving lives.

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There is plenty more to be done before this phase is over, with end of mission reports, ensuring continuity until the next team arrives, handing over the said team and preparing ourselves for the next phase that kicks off before the end of the month.  What I do know is that the team is exhausted.  Exhausted, but reluctant to leave.  There are mixed feelings of the joy of going home to their family and loved ones, tempered with not wanting to leave so many people still in such desperate need.  This is a testament to what these individuals are like.  Alex, Amy, Mel, Shane and Simon have put everything into this trip, starting with their time away from home and work, to the tireless days which started at the crack of dawn and went through till the sun had long gone below the horizon.  The worked all day long, foregoing lunch, walking untold kilometers, drenched in sweat and carrying heavy packs, without a single word of complaint.  They maintained a professional and positive attitude, despite the horrendous things they all witnessed and heard. They gave and gave, and kept giving.  It has been an absolute honour to work alongside such dedicated and motivating people.  It’s been my pleasure to be team leader of a team that requires no leading.  I can’t thank them enough.




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We had to include some of Nat’s beautiful shots of the kids that he met along the way. Who knew all this time that this awesome, inspiring Team Leader was also such a wonderful photographer … he says it’s just his iphone not him but …. we’ll let you decide.

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DRG Bangladesh Team 2: Field Report: 5 November, 2017

by Nat Crewe; DRG Team Leader

Cox’s Bazaar, Bangladesh

It’s seems that I spoke too soon. Today was a ‘2 stretcher carries and five gunshot wounds’ kind of day.

IMG_2607The team headed into Kutapalong 2 (KTP2). I can’t describe how big and sprawling this camp is. With our mapping system, we can see what ground we have covered, and pick our route accordingly. Today, we simply picked another unexplored area and set forth.

It wasn’t long before Amy, Simon and I came across a 45 y.o woman who had fallen while running for her life. She had landed on her hip and has been unable to weight bear since. Her family literally carried her to Bangladesh. She had still not been seen at a medical facility and her shelter is deep within the camp. Without any way of getting to help, it was up to us to carry her out.

So that we didn’t tie up the whole team with a stretcher carry, we employed some local hands to carry the stretcher. Mel and I accompanied the patient and on the way we picked up another that Simon had found who had a swelling in his throat and, as a result, couldn’t swallow. He hadn’t eaten or drunk anything in 3 days.

Once we dropped off our patients, we returned to KTP2. Almost immediately we were taken by a helpful local to a lady who had a bullet wound in her buttock. It had been treated initially, but was now infected. This poor lady put up with some excruciating cleaning, packing and dressing. She was left with some antibiotics and strict instructions to visit the clinic in 3 days. As we left the shelter, we were guided to another gentleman who had been shot in the heel. The flesh was necrotic, but in such a way that actually covered and protected the wound. No treatment required.

IMG_2623The next patient was heartbreaking. A 10yo boy who had been shot in the head. The bullet had cut through his scalp and clipped his ear. He had had skin grafts taken from his thigh to address his head wound, which were taking well. His concern was an infection in his ear below where the bullet had removed the top of the ear. It was swollen and pus-filled and very, very painful.

This little guy was so brave when I lanced the wound a drew off the excess fluid. We bandaged him up and gave him some lollies. He swallowed one whole thinking it was medication! We spent some time with the family making sure they were aware of the camp counselling services. As they were fleeing their 10 day old baby had been killed also.

Now that people are ‘settling’, I wonder how they might be coming to terms with so much loss and trauma.  

Still moved by our young champion, we were taken directly to another young man in his twenties. He had been shot in the elbow and had lost most of the movement and feeling below the wound. It was also healing nicely, if not a little dirty. Mel and I cleaned and IMG_2631dressed it. When asked what we could do about the feeling in his arm it was with a heavy heart that we had to tell him that the bullet would have severed the nerve and that he probably would never get the feeling or movement back.

This apparent lack of communication between doctors and their patients, or possibly just lack of real understanding, was particularly poignant in our next, and last patient of the day. We were directed to a young man who was paralysed from the navel down.  He had no movement or feeling below that point, or any bladder/bowel control. He asked us what we could do for him. It turns out that he had been struck at the base of the spine by the Myanmar army as he was escaping in late August. He lost all feeling and movement immediately and has been like that ever since. He had been seen by doctors since and had a catheter inserted through which to urinate. I asked him what he had been told. He said that nothing had been discussed with him.

I sat with him and our wonderful fixer, Moslem, who translated, explaining everything that was occurring and why, and that there was almost no chance that he would ever walk again. Moslem held his hands and cried when he told him this. It was one of the lowest moments of this trip. To make matters worse he was lying on the bare, hard-packed earth. I told him that I would be back the next day with a mattress and to tend to his bed sores.

Whilst every day of this trip has been hard, some days are – emotionally – much harder than others.

If you would like to help our mission, you can donate to the Backpacker Medics cause here:

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