Bangladesh: "Every vaccinated person is one less 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, 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 will 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 quite rich in encounters and experiences.

For better understanding, the goal is to vaccinate 985,000 people against cholera… in seven days!

Therefore, we have 170 vaccination teams with 800 staff members in total. At the same time, several hundred outreach workers are busy mobilising 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 the efforts, we can’t reach all the people so we have to rework in smaller teams. 


View of the kutupalong refugee camp
The camp

In a camp of this size, organisation is extremely important. Photo: Heidi Anguria/MSF

The logistics begin early in the morning.

At 6:45am I go to the ministry of health, who distribute the treatment, to collect the vaccines. Up to 700 flasks containing the vaccine can be carried in one box. From there, I then take the boxes for my team directly to the area in which we are due to work that day.

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

We start at a certain point and search for example schools, places where food is distributed, mosques, health stations or similar places where many people meet. 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 get the best numbers.

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.

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!

We support our teams, if the rush is too big. 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) and solve every upcoming problem that can appear on such a day.

There is no time for lunch. Therefore, 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 past day and plan the next one.

When I get home, I’m quite tired but also 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 less who will get sick!

Top image shows Heidi and her colleague Alnoman.

If you live in the UK, please donate to MSF UK’s winter 2018 appeal to support our work with Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh.

If you live elsewhere in the world, please click here to make a donation.