By Antony Balmain, Australian Red Cross
Laila Begum, 25, is whisked in to the emergency tent at the Red Cross field hospital, in the heart of Kutupalong camp in Bangladesh, just a few kilometers from the Myanmar border.
Laila is worried about her six-month-old daughter, who has a fever and is struggling to breathe.
But the doctors and nurses are more concerned about the baby in her arms. Mohammed is 40 days old and weighs just 1.7 kilograms, less than half the average birth weight of a healthy baby.
His mother has been through more than most of us can imagine. Her entire village was torched and burnt to the ground in Rakhine State, Myanmar. She ran for her life with her children.
“It took nine days to reach Bangladesh. We slept on the road. We ate no food for four days and I became sick after drinking water from ponds. It’s two months later and I still feel sick in my stomach,” Laila says.
“Today, it took me more than three hours to walk to the Red Cross field hospital. There are not enough health facilities, we need more, though I am happy now to have care for my children.”
Spreading life-saving messages
There’s an excited chatter among the 12 Bangladesh Red Crescent volunteers in the field hospital tent as early morning sunlight filters through the trees and stove fire haze in Kutupalong camp.
The team of nurses, student doctors and other professionals, listen attentively as Red Cross nurse Anne Fjeldberg briefs them before they trek through the camps, providing critical care for overall health and emotional well-being.
One of the most important things they’ll do today is talk with mothers about breastfeeding.
“Breastfeeding is always the first choice. Why? It’s the cleanest. Some women think bottled milk is better and privacy to breastfeed is an issue in the camps” Anne says.
“Bottled milk will kill more children over time because water here is not clean and people don’t have enough money to buy the powder. Water has to be boiled and the bottle has to be clean. Otherwise the children get diarrhea and babies are dying.”
“We have one two month old baby here at the hospital who is malnourished. His skin is all wrinkly, he looks like an old man.”
Rapid return to health
Baby Mohammed has wide attentive eyes and a smile flickers across his face as his mother Laila strokes his cheek.
Tears of joy well up in Anne Fjeldberg’s eyes as she says that Mohammed has put on more than 700 grams weight in the past 12 hours, following successful breastfeeding.
Anne continues with her consultation saying to Laila: “Breastfeeding is like a vaccine every day for the kid.”
Laila responds: “My baby is getting better. I was really worried for my baby. I was concerned my baby had diarrhoea. My baby has been crying too much at night.”
Anne smiles. “It’s a healthy sign when the baby is crying for food. In the last 24 hours, he has been more awake, alert and much better. I am so happy he is crying; that means he is strong.”
The consultation is over and Anne is about to race to the next patient. Another tear appears in her eyes as she says, “Every day we’re helping mothers save their babies’ lives here.