By Corinne Ambler, IFRC
Fatema Begum is all smiles after receiving medicine and advice on treating her sick baby, but before today it was a different story. “We were living in a very horrible situation and suffering with no one to look after us,” the mother of four says. “Until now no one has come to help us.”
Fatema’s house was filled with water during the recent catastrophic floods that hit central and northern Bangladesh. Her two-year-old son Omor developed an infected cut on his head and her daughter Sabina, 5, has sore eyes.
Today Fatema was seen by senior Red Crescent nurse Sonali Rani Das, who has been a member of the mobile medical team since 2011. Currently the team is seeing 200 patients a day, all presenting with similar complaints.
“We are seeing a lot of women and children. They have problems like skin infections, eye infections, scabies, diarrhoea and asthma. We even see snake bites. When I see the children I take the mother’s blood pressure and check her over too,” she explains.
The Bangladesh Red Crescent team, made up of a doctor, a nurse and two volunteers, is one of 20 working across Bangladesh to treat people in remote communities who have been cut off by flood water or damage to roads. The team travels by any means it can, from three-wheel taxi, to a tiny boat, often crossing bamboo footbridges, and all while carrying a sack of medical supplies.
Sonali, who is also an assistant professor of nursing, joined the Red Crescent as a volunteer 30 years ago and loves this part of her job. “It’s very satisfying. I’m very happy I can help people and take care of the poor.”
Her colleague Dr Sujan Kumer Paul echoes her comments. “I joined to serve humanity. Prevention is better than cure; people should know how to prevent problems and how to treat them. It is satisfying as well – when you wear a white coat people like you and are friendly.”
The team keeps working without a break until every last person is seen. Then they pack up their medicine in a sack and get back on the boat, ready to do it all again tomorrow.
As she watches them leave Fatema says she now knows what to do about her baby’s injury, and she is grateful to the Red Crescent for helping. “You people came here to see us and help us so I’m feeling very happy.”
The Bangladesh Red Crescent mobile medical teams hope to reach 30,000 flood survivors across the country to treat diseases caused by contaminated flood water. Already there have been more than 13,000 cases of illness reported, including diarrhoea, respiratory infection, skin infection and eye infections.
The floods were the worst in Bangladesh for mostly 40 years, killing 145 people and impacting 8.2 million. Around 600 hectares of crop land has been damaged, and three quarters of a million houses destroyed or damaged.
Bangladesh Red Crescent Society has 1,200 volunteers on the ground helping in the five worst-affected districts, providing food, water and relief items to the most vulnerable. IFRC has launched an appeal of 4.7 million Swiss francs to assist Bangladesh Red Crescent to help 100,000 people.