Rebuilding trust in the Rohingya camps
This approach helped rebuild trust between the Rohingya and the medical community.
“We're reminded of the ever-changing nature of the health care system in these camps. We have recognized the importance of providing safe and effective medical care, screening and the positive effects of education and reliability for building trust,” says Alvi.
As of April 30, teams visited more than 59,960 structures and homes. So far, over 26,000 people – all likely COVID-19 infected, as teams are only treating patients with symptoms – have benefitted from the project. “Our project’s medical staff stood by the side of these frightened people through medical relief and kept them safe with a unique follow-up system,” says Tümer.
Chaklader adds, “The frontline local health care workers and the Rohingya families were very appreciative of our efforts as they felt that they were not forgotten in the midst of a pandemic.”
Providing relief to those who weren’t seeking it
One patient, Aziz (not his real name), has been living with several physical disabilities in Camp 17 for the past three years. He has a 68-year-old wife, a widowed daughter and a grandson living with him. “Even though we have many health care facilities here, we stopped going to health facilities after COVID-19 ... because we became afraid," Aziz says.
Aziz has a chronic cough, breathlessness and general weakness; suffers from gastritis and heartburn when eating meals; and has difficulty falling asleep. His wife also has long-term cough, headache, neck pain and difficulty sleeping.
Humanity Auxilium’s community-based surveillance and primary medical care team was able to reach Aziz while he was cooped up at home. When the teams first reached out, Aziz had a cough – a symptom of COVID-19. The community surveillance volunteers, along with medical staff, took him to the project coordination medical center, which is managed by the Turkish Red Crescent.
“When we were afraid of COVID-19, they visited from shelter to shelter to check us and informed us that we can go to the nearby Turkish Red Crescent health care center. We got medical care from there and got relieved from the disease,” Aziz says.
Although the COVID-19 outreach project has been successful in reaching needy refugees, ongoing medical care is still needed as the situation is constantly changing.
“Alarmingly, the situation of COVID-19 in Bangladesh has been deteriorating over the last few weeks,” Tümer noted on April 20, 2021. “The number of confirmed cases reached 23.36 per 100 tests in Bangladesh [and has] crossed the documented death toll of 100 for the first time – the upward trend has continued in the country since then. The positivity rate in Rohingya camps also suddenly increased from 1.3% to 2.3% in the last week. In addition, four of our colleagues working at the health facilities tested positive last week.”
Supporting refugee women during a global pandemic
The pandemic has added to worsening conditions in the camps in other ways. Alvi and her team are concerned about the impact on refugee women – many of whom are pregnant and afraid to seek medical attention or go to a birthing facility. In Cox’s Bazar, more than 26,000 Rohingya babies are born every year in refugee camps and informal settlements. Many Rohingya women are also victims of displacement, violence, trauma and, at times, rape. There is a growing concern about these women being stuck in the shelters with their abusers.
One pregnant woman, Noor (not her real name), lives in a small shelter in Camp 17 with four children and a husband. She became pregnant after positive cases of COVID-19 were first identified in the refugee camps. Like other pregnant women, Noor avoided health centers in case she ended up in an isolation facility.
“I became pregnant after the coronavirus arrived, but I could not go out of home because of fear,” Noor says. Even after becoming sick while pregnant, she did not seek medical care because of the stigma. “I was suffering from a cough, fever and headache, yet I did not go to any health facility,” Noor says.
The outreach teams from Humanity Auxilium's community-based surveillance and primary medical care project reached out to Noor. After checking her, they brought her to the project coordination health facility, where she was treated and given medication. Staff also encouraged her to have a hospital delivery.
Clearly, expectant mothers needed additional help, so Humanity Auxilium launched another project, mobilizing teams to inform refugees of their rights and options, such as birth control, along with nutritional and mental health support.
Alleviating further suffering: Stepping up when things get worse
Tragically, a massive fire this March in the Cox’s Bazar camp displaced at least 45,000 people and killed more than a dozen. Humanity Auxilium is responding to the fire by mobilizing to disperse funds, distribute food and provide medical attention to those injured in the blaze.
“We are standing in solidarity with Rohingya in this difficult time. Those people have suffered losses already: mass rape, razing of their homes, killings, forced displacement. They've lost everything in the past and now these temporary shelters are gone as well,” says Alvi, adding that Humanity Auxilium saw a spike in donations following the disaster.
In less than a week following the fire, more than 10,000 Rohingya refugees received care for burn-related injuries through Humanity Auxilium’s efforts. Humanity Auxilium distributed 62,301 hot meals, 3,308 cloth and hygiene packs and 21,070 medical support kits. “So many physicians who I didn't know personally reached out to me and offered their support. It means a lot to me,” Alvi says.
Post-COVID: Making the world a better place
Although Humanity Auxilium has supported many people in the past year, much work is still to be done. “Humanity Auxilium is trying to provide medical relief, but all of these measures are just an effort to keep them alive and putting a Band-Aid on their wounds,” Alvi says.
Alvi envisions Humanity Auxilium taking a more global approach to help alleviate suffering and bring health care to those living in marginalized communities around the world. She hopes to add more volunteers and raise more money, leading to a bigger global impact.
Such involvement “… lets victims know someone cares, and that they are not forgotten. In the best-case scenario, you’ll have played a small role in mitigating a genocide, and in the worst case, you’ll have fulfilled a commitment to your fellow human beings. After all, as physicians, we are guided by the principle that each human life is precious and equal – even the ones far away from home,” says Alvi.
Banner image credit: Humanity Auxilium