Having to treat up to 230 refugees a day in Bangladesh with many health problems is gut-wrenching for nurse and midwife Donna Collins as authorities battle a constant influx of people.
(Left) Whangarei nurse and midwife Donna Collins flanked by a Bangladeshi nurse and a translator at the refugee camp. Photo / Supplied
An estimated 624,000 Rohingya refugees, a Muslim ethnic minority in Myanmar’s northern Rakhine state, have fled to neighbouring Bangladesh since late August to escape oppression and extreme violence from Myanmar’s military and Buddhist majority.
Ms Collins is a Whangarei nurse and midwife and is based in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar district where the Kutupalong and Nayapara refugee camps are located.
The camps are spread over more than 14sq km and house more than 1 million displaced people.
Red Cross has opened a fully-equipped field hospital in Cox’s Bazar and is providing the displaced people food, water, shelter and medical treatment.
“As a midwife, I am seeing nearly every case I had only read about in text books such as an anencephalic baby and lots of things that would be picked up on ultrasound scans in New Zealand and completely treatable there, but here the baby with the cleft lip and palate sadly dies.”
Anencephaly is the absence of a major portion of the brain, skull, and scalp that occurs during embryonic development.
“But we also have some happy cases such as a lady whose family brought in their deceased mother and upon checking her, staff realised she was in a diabetic coma, gave her a glucose infusion and she literally came back to life and her family thought we had performed a miracle,” the Red Cross volunteer said.
Ms Collins is part of a team that sees between 180 and 230 people daily in a makeshift ED/outpatients’ department where they are triaged, treated or moved to appropriate rooms such as the operating theatre, maternity, paediatrics, male, female or isolation wards.
She said because it was a level two surgical referral hospital, volunteers received many catastrophic cases where patients died.
It was gut-wrenching to visit the transit camp to do antenatal checks on pregnant women and go into the tent and realise they have arrived with nothing because they could only carry their children.
“While I visited a woman the other day, her little boy laid beside her on the tarp-covered gravel floor and went to sleep.
“Some days I feel angry that we are the ambulance at the bottom of a massive cliff and every effort must be made to resolve this today. To see such human suffering is gut-wrenching.”
She said all Red Cross team members gave 110 per cent to look after hundreds of thousands of people daily.
The Red Cross is also doing a cholera vaccination campaign at the refugee camp because the spread of water-borne diseases among the hungry, sick and injured was a concern.
It was “really hot” working in tents during the day with lots of flies and was cold at night, she said.
Ms Collins started at the refugee camp on November 19 and is working every day.
She said it was “incredibly” busy and to illustrate that, it took her three days to jot down a few paragraphs to the Northern Advocate for publication.
She’s expected back in Whangarei later this month after a four-week stint.
The highly sought-after nurse also helped out during the Ebola outbreak in Africa, in the Solomon Islands last year during a dengue fever outbreak, and was part of the Red Cross disaster response team to Nepal after the 2015 earthquake.
When not helping out in the world’s trouble spots, Ms Collins works at Whangarei Hospital.