Bangladesh: "Every vaccinated person is one fewer who will get sick!"

German nurse Heidi Anguria is in Bangladesh, working for Médecins Sans Frontières / Doctors Without Borders (MSF) inside the Kutupalong refugee camp - home to hundreds of thousands of Rohingya people who have fled violence in Myanmar. Here, in her fifth blog post, she shares how her team are taking on a massive vaccination campaign to protect one million people against cholera.

Heidi and Alnoman

I don’t know how to describe the past week, but I'll try.

For me, the ongoing vaccination campaign is like the salt in the soup (a German saying that means “the best bit”) of our project – intensive, hot, full of work and rich in encounters and experiences.

To be clear, the goal is to vaccinate 985,000 people against cholera… in seven days!

To make it happen, we have 170 vaccination teams with 800 staff members in total. At the same time, several hundred outreach workers are busy informing and encouraging people to get vaccinated.

The good thing is that the vaccination is an oral treatment. That makes the whole process much faster. 

Organisation and high performance is required

The whole camp is subdivided into 25 “areas” and we work our ways from north to south. However, despite all our efforts, when we visit an area, we never manage to reach every single person there, so we also have to revisit areas in smaller teams. 


View of the kutupalong refugee camp
The camp

The logistics begin early in the morning.

At 6:45am I go to the base of the Ministry of Health, to collect the vaccines. Up to 700 vials containing the vaccine can be carried in one box. From there, I take the boxes for my team directly to the area we will be working in that day.

I’m responsible for four mobile teams. That means we're on the move the whole day.

We start aby searching schools, places where food is distributed, mosques, health stations or similar places where people congregate. Another approach is to go from house to house, but that is of course much more time-intensive.

Each of my teams consists of five people. If necessary, they split up to reach more areas. They are already quite good at finding the right spots. They've literally scrambled to reach the highest numbers of people possible.

Uphill? Downhill? The most important thing is to keep moving!

After I’ve sent my teams on their way, I also start my tour with Al Noman, my right-hand man (pictured with me at the top of this blog post).

We walk the whole day from one team to another. Uphill and downhill in a heat that you can’t get used to. The only thing that helps is to drink, drink, drink … and to keep going!

If the queues are too big, we support the teams with vaccinating people. We make hundreds of phone calls each day to stay tuned with all the staff. We transport supplies if the vaccines are getting low. We keep contact with the World Health Organisation (WHO) team and solve all sorts of problems as they come up, which they inevitably do.

There's no time for lunch so we help ourselves to some nuts or cucumbers that we buy quickly at one of the many markets. At the end of the day, we have a final meeting to evaluate the day's work and plan the next one.

When I get home, I’m quite tired but also feel quite lucky.

On the one hand, all my colleagues are just great and it is a lot of fun working together. On the other hand, vaccination campaigns like this are one of the few activities where you know the impact at the end of a day – every vaccinated person is one fewer who will get sick!


Read more: Stories from the Rohingya crisis

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