After being in Bangladesh with the Canadian Red Cross since mid-November, Chilcotin family nurse practitioner Patrice Gordon said she is shocked by what she is seeing.
“The need for assistance is so huge that it takes my breath away,” Gordon wrote in a message to the Tribune of the refugee crisis there. “So much loss and sadness. It is shattering. I am finding it very difficult to reconcile what I see here with all that we have at home.”
Many organizations and people are working exhaustively and co-operatively to help, that it brings tears to her eyes thinking of how many good people are in the world, she said.
“But, it’s overwhelming to bear witness to the suffering that exists.”
Gordon is team leader for a mobile clinic in the farthest reaches of the Cox’s Bazar refugee settlement in Bangladesh just across the border from Myanmar where 800,000 refugees have fled.
The team is working in areas, where there is no other access to health care services.
“We are seeing severe malnutrition, measles, a lot of respiratory and skin infections, parasitic infections — some things we would not ever see in Canada.”
They treat what they can there in the camp and arrange for those who need more in-depth care to go out to the Red Cross Red Crescent field hospital at the base camp.
She described how they are using “human ambulances,” — young men from the affected population who know their way around the intricate trails and paths within the massive camp who escort people who need referral out to make sure they get to the right place.
If they need to go by stretcher, she added, the team hires porters to carry them with the “human ambulance” as their guide.
“In addition to our mobile clinics, we are also on call to receive an influx of large numbers of arriving people who have crossed the boarder from Myanmar, arriving 600 or 700 at a time,” Gordon said. “They come into the transit centre carrying everything they own.”
The refugees have been on the move for weeks, have often not eaten for several days and had very little to drink in the heat and humidity, she said.
Many of them have injuries and most have lost family members to violence in Myanmar.
There are many pregnant women and some women that have given birth along the way who are too malnourished to produce breast milk for their newborns.
The team is also working with local people from the affected population who are being trained as volunteers to assist with psychological first aid for traumatized individuals, particularly women and children.
Efforts are being made to share information about hygiene, avoidance of diarrhea illnesses, breastfeeding, recognizing infectious diseases, screening for manipulation.
“This building of capacity within the local community is so powerful,” Gordon said, but then asked, “How can this crisis not be in the news everywhere every day?”
While in Bangladesh, Gordon had the opportunity to meet with Canada’s Minister of International Development and La Francophonie, Marie-Claude Bibeau, who visited the area Nov. 21 to 23.
In a press release issued by Global Affairs Canada, Bibeau said the refugee crisis requires urgent action and that was why the Canadian government launched the Myanmar Crisis Relief Fund, which matched dollar for dollar every eligible donation that Canadians make to an organization providing life-saving assistance to the Rohingya people.
— Development Canada (@CanadaDev) November 29, 2017
The campaign wrapped up on Nov. 29.