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Inside SAMS’s first healthcare facility in Bangladesh

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Since August, 646,000 Rohingya refugees have fled from Myanmar to neighboring Bangladesh. According to the latest Doctors Without Borders report, at least 6,700 Rohingyas died, mostly due to violence in a brutal military crackdown, between August 25 and September 24. This deeply troubling number includes at least 730 children under the age of five.

Rohingyas have fled into Bangladesh with immense, urgent health care needs, including the need for psychosocial care and treatment for physical trauma. Since September of 2017, SAMS has provided medical care to Rohingyas in Cox’s Bazar through our partnership with local medical organization, Gonoshasthaya Kendra (GK).

According to our medical staff on the ground, refugees living in these camps suffer from communicable illnesses, chronic diseases, emotional and physical trauma that have gone untreated due to a scarcity of medical services within the refugee camps.

Recently, in partnership with GK, SAMS opened its first healthcare facility in Bangladesh. The facility is staffed with two doctors, two nurses, a pharmacist, interpreters and local and international medical volunteers. The medical facility provides primary health care, infectious disease control precautions and procedures, and maternal and child health care services for the Rohingya community residing in Cox’s Bazar. The newly inaugurated health facility is equipped to provide medical care that targets not only the primary treatment of disease but also prevention, control and spread of such communicable diseases.

In the month half of December, SAMS and its partners have treated 669 patients, including 329 Female and 340 Male at the Kutupalong, Lambasia camp, one of the two camps where SAMS is located.

Throughout our interactions with patients, many stand out – some are particularly harrowing, signaling the unspeakable brutality with which the Burmese military has targeted civilians.

Momtaz, 32 years old, had five children, three boys and two girls in the Rakhine state of Myanmar. Her husband, three sons, and her infant daughter will killed by the Myanmar military. Momtaz was beaten, raped and locked inside her house before it was set on fire by the military.

When Momtaz arrived in Bangladesh with her surviving daughter, she was scarred, dehydrated and unconscious for 4 days. Her daughter, who also bears scars of violence, was with her. After repeated psychosocial counselling and dressing of her wounds, she is now recovering slowly. She had sustained burns to the entire right side of her body, including her face and limbs. She complained of hearing problems and difficulty moving her jaw.

SAMS Medical Team Leader, Dr. Salem, examined her ear to find extensive scarring in her external ear. She was then referred to a specialist hospital in Cox’s Bazar. Her hearing now has a chance of being restored. Thought she requires surgical management, she is under routine supervision by SAMS doctors at the SAMS supported clinic to ensure her adequate management and care.

The SAMS clinic also provides health benefits that can be felt across the community. When Khodeja presented with tuberculosis, she was examined by SAMS doctors, and was found to have a history of tuberculosis. Tuberculosis is highly contagious, and the SAMS clinic played a significant role in stemming the spread of the disease inside the community.

Chronic conditions are also difficult to manage in a refugee setting, particularly one as underdeveloped as that in Cox’s Bazar. Another patient, Mohammad, 42 years old, came to SAMS’ clinic with abdominal pain, nausea and blood streaked vomiting. He had been previously diagnosed with Hepatitis C and HIV. He was examined and found to have all the features of chronic liver disease. After a thorough examination of his vitals, he was quickly referred to a tertiary level hospital for confirmation and management of Hepatitis C and HIV. Case reporting was ensured to reduce the risk of HIV transmission and spread.

For Rohingya refugees attempting to find safety in Bangladesh, consistent medical care is vital as they grapple with the lasting physical and emotional trauma they’ve been subjected to. We’re humbled to be the recipients of these stories – in addition to providing dignified care, SAMS doctors also bear witness to the impact of humanitarian crises on the lives of innocents.