Rohingya crisis: Vaccinate, raise awareness, vaccinate

After working for Médecins Sans Frontières / Doctors Without Borders (MSF) in South Sudan and the Mediterranean, German nurse Heidi Anguria is now in Bangladesh. In her third blog from inside Kutupalong refugee camp, home to hundreds of thousands of Rohingya, she shares her experiences of working on large-scale vaccination campaigns.

Heidi's green lemonade

Another week is over and it's now my day off.

During the week, I never know exactly what day it is ... I just work all the time. Hair sticks to my forehead, sweat runs constantly and despite drinking a lot of water, I never have to go to the bathroom.

I travel to the camp every day and visit my five teams across the vaccination stations. When there are sometimes no patients, we hold training sessions about the diseases were are there to vaccinate against. Of course, the team have learnt it all before, but a refresher never hurts.

Heidi visiting one of her vaccination teams in Kutupalong. Photo: Heidi Anguria

While travelling with my wonderful translator, Al Nouman, we have been talking a lot about his country, culture, history, customs ... and about food.

Sometimes the teams invite me to share some hard, green mangoes, which one eats with a salt and chilli mixture that is very sour but refreshing. Or, Al Nouman and I will eat something small at one of the countless stalls. The dishes are nearly always fried, such as samosas, chapatis, balls made of a spicy potato mixture and much more. Delicious!

In addition to my own teams, I also visit MSF health posts. At each of these Bangladeshi midwives are working to vaccinate pregnant women against tetanus and newborns against hepatitis B.

Anything that is related to vaccinations falls under my responsibility. Unfortunately, of course, this also includes some office work.

"Nothing works without an outreach worker!"

Our outreach workers go out into the camp every day to teach health education and awareness to refugees living here.

They tell people when and where to go for vaccinations and work to identify individuals who may have had contact with diphtheria. They also carry out regular population counts and much more.

Nothing works without these staff members!

Another very big task that is coming up for our team is a large-scale cholera vaccination campaign, which is due to start soon. In total, 985,000 people will be vaccinated, including 200,000 Bangladeshis living around the camp.

Of course, MSF won’t be doing this alone. All available local organisations will work together under the direction of the Ministry of Health and the World Health Organization.

I attended the first meeting about this yesterday. As you can imagine, given the dimensions, there will be a few more to follow.

You would not believe how busy the camp is every day.

In a previous blog, I mentioned that all homes have to be prepared for the rainy season. For this, tons of bamboo trunks have been brought in. I tried to lift one once and it was impossible. I have no idea how the men do it.

In general, so many loads are transported by muscle power. Children and teenagers have to help with the many other tasks, while outside the camp people are currently engaged in one of the twice-a-year rice harvests.

So, that`s it for today. I'll write again soon.

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.