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MSF in Bangladesh, 2008
Field Staff: 150
Reason for Intervention:
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In the area bordering Myanmar, thousands of Rakhine Muslims, often referred to as Rohingya, struggle to survive. Denied citizenship at home, many escaped persecution only to find themselves living in appalling conditions in Bangladesh, with poor access to health care and inadequate protection.
In 2008, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) continued to deliver health care to more than 7,500 Rakhine Muslims living in Tal makeshift camp, as well as to those in the neighboring community. The camp, positioned next to flood-prone waters and a dangerously busy road, was appallingly overcrowded and unsanitary. In the primary healthcare clinic, MSF staff regularly treated people who had diarrhea, skin infections, and respiratory tract infections which were due to the squalid living conditions. Services also included a therapeutic feeding center for severely malnourished children, a mental health program, and projects to improve drinking water and sanitation. After months of intense lobbying led by MSF, the camp was eventually moved to a new site in Lada Bazaar in July. Other agencies were able to step in, allowing MSF to hand over activities.
In the isolated districts of the Chittagong Hill Tracts, the least-developed area within Bangladesh, the ethnically diverse population is especially vulnerable. Years of conflict, discrimination, and marginalization have forced the standard of the area’s health care far below that of other areas of the country. During 2008, people faced increased food insecurity. This was worsened by a plague of rats that badly affected supplies of rice, the main staple of people’s diets.
Tensions between established tribal groups, the more recently arrived Bengali settlers, the large government military presence, and local opposition groups keep the area prone to outbreaks of violence and cause some people to flee their homes. One of the main markets in the area remained empty for much of the year as a result of boycotting and intimidation.
In response to the increased levels of food insecurity and a 13 percent incidence of acute malnutrition in children under five years old, MSF set up an emergency nutritional intervention program in the Sajek Union area of Chittagong Hill Tracts. The intervention, which ran from April to December, sought to assist those already affected by malnutrition and to prevent the situation from worsening. A mobile feeding program was set up, as well as an inpatient stabilization center for treating children who needed closer medical attention. MSF began to provide essential food items such as oil, fish paste, and salt to around 28,000 people. Alongside the nutritional program, MSF set up a basic health clinic and eight health outposts, which were supported by a laboratory service for tests such as malaria.
While the nutritional situation steadily improved, MSF continued to treat around 200 people per week in the clinics, largely for diarrhea, upper respiratory tract infection, and malaria.
MSF has worked in Bangladesh since 1985.