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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.