Rohingya crisis: A race against time

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. In this blog, she shares the challenges her team face as they prepare for the coming monsoon season.

A man walks through the Kutupalong refugee camp

After work…

It’s unbelievable how fast the time passes by!

In the meantime, Mother’s Day has been – on which I was less a mother, although I had a lot of day. And, it was a special day… it was the last day of our vaccination campaign!

However, as so often, there was the need for rework. In total there were fewer teams in action than planned, but in all areas, we tried to improve the results and so we could vaccinate thousands more.

My conclusion: Although it was really hot and you felt as though you would die of thirst (cold water is the greatest drink, ever!). Although you felt as though you had climbed each and every hill hundreds of times and climbed a million steps. And, although you could only try to find your teams with “human GPS”… it was great!

The best thing was that with 900,000 people vaccinated, we reached the goal of the campaign! I think all involved can be proud.

The second dose of the treatment will now be given in July.


Some places in the camp can only be reached by dangerous paths
Some places in the camp can only be reached by dangerous paths

I gave my great teams a day off yesterday, while today is also a free day and the beginning of Ramadan.

The upcoming four weeks will be quite hard for all those who work in the camps and have to walk the long distances. Therefore, we decided that all colleagues should be able to work one hour less each day. 

… before work

Now we are once again dedicated to our normal jobs, but there is still a lot to do anyway.

We are working on a big effort to prepare the camp for the rainy season and to make it as safe as possible. The rainfall has increased already but it’s not the time for rubber boots yet.

In a race against time, daily attempts are made to make the accommodation safer and to build enough waterholes and latrines.

There have already been ten landslides. There has been injured and unfortunately dead. People who lived in the most dangerous areas have been moved but there is not enough available land that can be made habitable.

Together with the rainy season, the probability of disease outbreaks such as extreme diarrhoea increases.

We have prepared special treatment centres and, of course, the cholera vaccination campaign should help prevent an outbreak. However, for now, everything is under control. 

The not so everyday daily life

It is Ramadan. That means, that our colleagues sleep three to four hours after a late meal, have breakfast at 3am, go to bed again for a short time and then are off for work. They are a little bit tired all day, but nonetheless, they all give their best.

I tried to fast with them for at least two days to get an idea of what it feels like. I didn’t really miss the food that much, but not drinking is really hard. Even after my years in Nigeria, I am learning new stuff about Islam again and I find it quite interesting.

Furthermore, I am taking care of the vaccinations of several hundred employees and I’m also involved in mass casualty training. This is where we simulate many injured patients arriving at the facility at once – for example due to a bus accident, a fire within the camp or the landslides I mentioned before.

For these kinds of situations, there is a special plan. We have already learned it theoretically. Now it’s time for the big practice.

Twenty volunteers will be my actors. Each of them has a role, from simple burns on the arm to a metal bar through the stomach, even a dead man… the simulation will challenge our colleagues.

When the past catches up

I have previously mentioned that we also take care of the psychological needs of the refugees living here.

We try to support them through a difficult present: living in the smallest of places; fears about limited food; no schools for their children and concerns for their safety. Sadly, there are kidnappings, exploitation and abuse.

The problems of the past are also catching people up now. There are many women who became pregnant as a result of sexual abuse during the height of the conflict in Myanmar last August and are now giving birth. We have trained staff to provide psychological care and there are also midwives ready to treat such cases.

Roughly four out of five mothers give birth at home – a home that is made of bamboo, plastic sheeting and rough soil. If there are complications, it means grave danger for mother and child.

The children that are born in the camp have no birth certificate, no citizenship and no status as a refugee. However, the mothers in the camp only want for their children what any mother on Earth would ask for: food, clothes, security and a home.

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.