Medical Teams International | Official Blog

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  • Resilience: A Nurse's Perspective on the Rohingya Crisis

    by Lydia Lu | Oct 31, 2017

    Since early October, Medical Teams volunteers have been caring for sick, injured, and traumatized Rohingya refugees in Cox's Bazar, a fishing port in southeastern Bangladesh. The refugees, whose number now exceeds 540,000, live in squalid conditions, with limited access to latrines or hygiene supplies. The settlement is ripe for disease.

    Nurse Lydia Lu is a member of the first-in response team. She writes to tell us what she's seen on the ground as part of the relief efforts. 

    Even though I arrived in Cox's Bazar in early October, it seems like I've been here for months.

    This is my third time in Bangladesh, but it's my first time in an emergency response setting and my first time in a refugee camp.

    On arrival, I learned the ongoing crisis today is not the first time the Rohingya have been forced to migrate to Bangladesh. In the early 1990s, over 200,000 Rohingya fled Myanmar and were ultimately settled into what is now called Kutupalong Refugee Camp. The new refugees to this area, who have arrived en masse since late August, have extended out into what they are calling the “Kutupolong Expansion” and farther out to the “Kutupolong Makeshift Camp”.  

    I had heard our team leader described this camp as the worst he'd ever seen, so I steeled myself for chaos and despair.

    Bangladesh, -14 view of settlement, 2017
    Refugees mill about in the Kutupolang Refugee Camp, among the fastest growing settlements in the world. Since August, hundreds of thousands of new refugees have arrived.

    Since that first day, I have been working with the rest of the team to establish a community health worker program to provide outreach on hygiene, safe water, and diarrhea prevention and management education. We equip the community health workers with hygiene supplies to give to families.

    This work has involved walking into the camp, enduring the blazing-hot sun, sliding in-between the shelter-homes of the refugees, balancing on makeshift bamboo bridges, and sloshing through mud and rain.

    "The people I'm meeting are incredibly resilient," Lydia Lu.

    We have tried to make sense of the labyrinth of paths etched into the hillsides, found local leaders, and been introduced to volunteers from these groups of people who now find themselves living together. We have been inside homes, sat where people eat and sleep and congregate. We have walked through the “neighborhoods” of our 19 Rohingya community health workers.

    The experience inside the camp presents a rawness, realness, and starkness that I didn’t realize from an outside view. There is still a disarming quiet, a coping with this new life, that I see around me. The people I’m meeting are incredibly resilient.

    I don't sense hopelessness from the community health workers, who are refugees themselves. They are so eager, so industrious. They are ready to do whatever they can to improve their lives and the lives of their neighbors. Honestly, I don’t know how much they will be able to sustain this energy, but I hope they can. And I hope we can continue to keep up with them.  

    Help Lydia and her team support these community health workers. These are refugees who despite losing everything work to make better, healthier lives for themselves and their neighbors. To learn more and to donate to our Rohingya refugee response, click here.

  • Nurse Shares Harrowing Refugee Stories: 'God Help Them'

    by Theresa Wood | Oct 28, 2017

    As members of our Humanitarian Response Team trek through the hilly settlements of Bangladesh, treating sick and traumatized Rohingya refugees, they hear horrible stories. Entire communities have been set ablaze, with women and children suffering terribly as they're caught in the crosshairs of violence.

    Theresa Wood, a Medical Teams nurse, has spent nearly three weeks in Bangladesh helping the refugees. Here she shares some of the difficult stories she's heard.

    <Bangladesh, volunteers with patients - DMC, 2017 (2)
    Nurse Theresa Wood cares for a mother and baby at Medical Teams' diarrhea management clinic at the Kutupalong settlement in Bangladesh.

    A woman with a white head scarf was visiting an elderly woman lying on a hospital bed, telling what happened to her family. She grabbed my interpreter and wanted to share with me as well. Two other women joined us.

    She started by saying she will never return to Myanmar.  

    “They can kill me here. They cannot force me to go back,” she said.

    She shared how a helicopter landed in her village. Many men came out of the helicopter and attacked. Hundreds of men were rounded up and slaughtered. They were tortured first. Their fingernails were ripped off and their beards were burned.

    The woman watched as her husband, along with many other men of the village, were lined up and had “their heads chopped off with a large, sharp knife."

    The village was lit on fire. Babies were grabbed by the legs and thrown into the fire. The woman's parents were murdered. The bad men came to get her girls who would be taken to be raped. But she was able to flee with her five daughters and four sons. They made it safely to Bangladesh. Tears were streaming down her face as she shared her story. 

    Another woman wearing a beautiful black head covering was “very wealthy” in Myanmar, she said. She had a “beautiful home" with her husband. He was very influential in his community because he was a religious leader. When the bad men came, they tortured and murdered him “first, so they could get our home,” she said.  

    “I have nothing now. I wore these clothes because they are comfortable. I am so ashamed. I was beautiful before, but I will never marry again," she said. "I cannot even cover my face. I do not even have the money to buy long sleeves to cover my arms."

    She entered the camp 10 days ago. She ran barefoot with her baby for many kilometers through the jungle and over many hills. She cut up her feet while on the journey. She just kept saying how ashamed she was.  

    The woman in the burgundy head covering was silent. I do not know her story, but she joined with the others telling me to “tell people about it. They must know what is happening."

    We were all crying. I put my arms around the three women and held and rocked them for a long time. They all snuggled in like little children. I was thankful I am tall and have arms long enough to hold three beautiful, strong women.  

    God help them.

    Theresa and her team are in Bangladesh because of your generous support. To continue helping the Rohingya refugees, donate now and learn more so you can spread the word about the fastest-growing refugee crisis in the world.

  • First violence, then disease -- a long road ahead for Rohingya refugees

    by Dr. Bruce Murray | Oct 25, 2017

    For the more than 540,000 Rohingya refugees who have escaped violence in Myanmar to relative safety in Bangladesh, there's a long road ahead. The refugee camp is a fertile breeding ground for deadly respiratory infections and diarrheal diseases.

    But doctors and nurses with Medical Teams International are working in Kutupalong Refugee Settlement, the fastest growing settlement in the world, to deliver health care to thousands of refugees.

    The following dispatch comes from Dr. Bruce Murray, who's been in Bangladesh for the past three weeks.

    As the senior physician for Medical Teams International at the Kutupalong Settlement in Bangladesh, I was called to the pediatric room of the 20-bed diarrhea management unit to see a tiny new patient.

    Bangladesh, -25 Rebecca Duskin-Bruce Murray at DMC, 2017
    Nurse Becca and Dr. Murray treat a tiny patient at Medical Teams' Diarrhea Management Unit at the Kutupalong Settlement in Bangladesh.

    Brought by his crying grandmother, the boy appeared to be about 12-15 months old. He had a fever and watery diarrhea. He appeared dehydrated, was hot to the touch and listless. A Bangladeshi paramedical student carefully laid him on the bed, while I began my examination. The sobbing was still evident behind me as Becca attended to the grandmother and tried to console her. The grandmother was afraid the boy was going to die.

    Our first priority was the medical care that the child needed, hooking him to an IV to supply fluids.

    We were working to save the boy's life. Acute diarrhea is the second leading cause of death among children at this settlement. In those extreme cases it causes organ failure and sepsis. Children who are malnourished are particularly vulnerable. The very hot and humid tropical conditions only add to the risk.

    Bangladesh, breeding ground for disease - 15, 2017
    In hot and humid conditions, with a lack of sanitation, the settlement is a breeding ground for diseases.

    Once the IV was running, I turned to see how the grandmother was doing. She was hugging Becca tightly. Through our translator, the woman told her story:

    She and the baby had crossed over the border from Myanmar just four days ago. It had been a very difficult journey, as they had to cross mountains to get to the river on the border to cross. Her heart was heavy because armed men had attacked their village. They had separated the men from the women and children and proceeded to decapitate the men in front of the other family members.

    Her son, the father of the young boy I was treating, was included in the slaughter. 

    She did not know the fate of the child’s mother but assumed she had been assaulted and killed. She said she couldn’t take the pain and that was why it was so important that this child lived. None of us had dry eyes at that point. 

    The woman continued to cry as she held tightly to Becca, releasing some of the pain. The crying eventually ceased and she seemed to relax a bit. Within four hours, the child had received enough IV fluids to appear brighter and more alert. He could even sip on some rehydration solution.

    The grandmother, who was likely in her 60s, could see the child was responding and her crying gradually turned to tears of joy. She cradled the child and expressed that she was so glad that she'd brought him for treatment. We learned later she thought there were other relatives in the camp, and she would make efforts to locate them.

    After 24 hours, the boy looked much better and was able to leave the unit. Stories of atrocities resonate throughout the settlement. We were able to help this child, but this woman's pain will carry on.

    Learn more about Rohingya refugees, their plight and what you can do to help. Consider making a donation today. You can have an immediate impact on the lives of some of the most vulnerable people. You can give them one of the most powerful gifts: compassionate health care.

  • Rohingya refugees make progress despite challenging conditions

    by Jessy Hampton | Oct 20, 2017

    With half a million Rohingya refugees having fled Myanmar for nearby Bangladesh, Medical Teams International is rushing to prevent the spread of deadly diseases at the cramped makeshift camps. A 20-person team of doctors, nurses, and support staff is on the ground, improving the health of thousands in the midst of what's become the worst refugee crisis in the world. 

    Changes are swift in the refugee settlements within the Cox’s Bazar district of Bangladesh. When hundreds of thousands of people cross a border in a matter of weeks, conditions change each minute.

    Prior to August 25, roughly 200,000 Rohingya refugees were living in two refugee camps in southeastern Bangladesh. Since then, those two camps have exploded in population. Dozens of additional “spontaneous” settlements have sprung up, and thousands of people have chosen to settle along the roads.

    Within a day, laborers can clear off the tops of hills and create terraces for rudimentary shelters made of cheap black tarps.

    Bangladesh, family shelters - 18, 2017
    A large family of Rohingya refugees live in this makeshift shelter, little more than a tarp splayed across a bamboo structure.

    The weather changes just as quickly. The rainy summer season is almost over, but this means that some days are scorching while others bring downpours. When it rains, canals between the hills fill quickly, turning the hills into islands and forcing people to wade through muddy water to reach the roads.

    At the same time, progress is swift: on an empty field in the middle of a makeshift camp a small medical tent springs up, replaced the next day by a larger hospital tent, replaced the next by a temporary structure made of bamboo.

    Workers are constantly laying bricks to solidify the roads. Medical Teams International--in partnership with the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees and the Bangladeshi government--were able to open Kutupalong Camp’s first diarrhea management center. 

    Bangladesh, -25 Rebecca Duskin-Bruce Murray at DMC, 2017
    Rebecca, a nurse, and Bruce, a doctor, treat an infant at Medical Teams' diarrhea management clinic. 

    In just a few days, doctors and nurses from Medical Teams and a local partner have consulted with and treated 72 patients, most of whom were suffering from diarrhea and dehydration. Meanwhile, Medical Teams' community health worker program has already visited 60 families in the broader Kutupalong settlement area, giving health and hygiene guidance and supplying families with oral rehydration salts, soap, and other hygiene materials.

    Bangladesh, Kutupalong - 54, 2017Community Health Workers (with backpacks) visit their neighbors in the Kutupalong settlement area to dispense health and hygiene advice and check for signs of illnesses.

    Each day brings its own challenges, disappointments, and successes. The refugees still face dangerous camp conditions: overcrowding and inadequate water, sanitation, and hygiene facilities mean that diseases can easily spread.

    The tarps that people are using for shelter will wear out in a few months and will need to be replaced. Women and girls don’t have access to enough private latrines and other safe spaces. But the small victories still matter, like training Rohingya youth to be health workers in their communities and making sure a malnourished child gets treatment at a health care facility.

    You are supporting tireless efforts to keep these refugees healthy. More than 540,000 Rohingya are now displaced, living in filthy conditions and needing support. To learn more about the crisis and to donate, click here.

  • Rohingya refugees: The 'lucky ones' survive by boat

    by Sharon Tissell | Oct 18, 2017

    Doctors and nurses are on the ground in Bangladesh, treating Rohingya refugees who have fled horrific scenes of violence in Myanmar. Since Aug. 25, more than 540,000 refugees have spilled across Bangladesh's border, often sailing on rickety boats across the treacherous Naf River to reach camps crowded by new arrivals.

    The following dispatch comes from Sharon Tissell, a nurse who's been in Bangladesh for more than two weeks.

    Yesterday a couple of us volunteers went to Bangladesh’s southern border, where Rohingya refugees arrive by sea. 

    Bangladesh, refugees at Shar Porir, 2017 (4)
    A small boat unloads passengers -- Rohingya refugees -- after sailing from Myanmar to Bangladesh across the Naf River.

    They travel in the middle of the night, packed in fishing boats, across the mouth of the Naf River, where it empties into the Bay of Bengal. The day prior a boat had capsized and all the refugees perished. 

    As we drove down coast, admiring the stunning beauty, we came across an area of activity. A group of local people had gathered. We stopped to see what was happening, only to find that they had recovered yet more bodies from the previous day’s tragedy--four women and three children.  

    The bodies were already shrouded and were being carried up to the roadside to be buried. There is no way to identify them and notify their relatives. I am heartbroken as I think of what these mothers and children must have gone through in their attempt to reach safety. The Rohingya refugees are caught between unimaginable persecution and great peril in their path to safety.  

    Bangladesh, dead bodies on the beach, 2017 (3)
    Locals carry a shrouded body that washed ashore to a makeshift burial ground nearby. All the refugees aboard the boat died after it capsized while attempting to cross the Naf River. 

    But they have no choice if they want to survive.

    With heavy hearts we continued onto the most southern tip of Bangladesh. Here we boarded a small, weathered boat that took us 15 minutes away, to a small island where the beautiful mountains of Myanmar are just across the water. This is where the refugees first arrive in the early morning hours, then wait until dawn to board the small boats that take them to the mainland.  

    Minutes later we had made our way into a boat with a handful of refugees. We talked with them as we made our way back to the mainland, following them as they took their first steps in Bangladesh. The pain in their faces was unmistakable, and though they are considered the “lucky ones” who made it, I cringe to know what awaits them in the crowded refugee camps.  

    Once on the mainland, these families are counted and driven by truck north to Kutupalong Refugee Camp where we have been providing medical care since September.

    We continued up the eastern border of Bangladesh and assessed several more crossing areas, walking through rice paddies where the Bangladesh border guards monitor the refugee influx.

    We passed through more unofficial settlements, packed with refugees who have yet to be registered and do not yet receive any assistance. These are the most vulnerable, and tomorrow we begin a new assignment from the UN to open up two new clinics in these areas. I’m so grateful to be able to join the many others who are doing what we can to meet the basic need of these dear people.

    Learn more about Rohingya refugees and how you can make a difference in the fastest-growing refugee crisis in the world. Your support brings help to thousands of deeply vulnerable people who have nowhere else to turn for medical care.