By Lauren Odderstol September 26, 2022 At the end of August 2017, the Rohingya people — a minority group in Myanmar — experienced horrific violence. They fled genocide in Myanmar, surviving massacres and burning villages. Over the course of a month, hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees poured into neighboring Bangladesh. In a matter of days after the forced migration began, Medical Teams International sent volunteer doctors and nurses to Bangladesh. These volunteers provided emergency health care, treating everything from diarrhea to respiratory infections to gunshot wounds. Over the last five years, Medical Teams partnered with Food for the Hungry in Bangladesh, operating as the Joint Rohingya Response Programme (JRRP) in Kutupalong Refugee Camp and the surrounding areas. As the densest and largest refugee camp in the world with over 800,000 refugees, we continued to provide vital health care as the Rohingya assimilated to their new space. We cared for vulnerable populations by providing direct health care, community health, nutrition services, mental health support groups and more. A view over Kutupalong Refugee Camp Recently, we announced Medical Teams is transitioning away from its programming in Bangladesh. In light of this decision, we want to honor what we accomplished together as the JRRP and the great work that will continue in support of the Rohingya people. Key successes: Medical Teams in Bangladesh Here are some of the key highlights of our program successes as the JRRP in Kutupalong: Provided over 440,000 direct health care consultations to Rohingya refugees in Kutupalong camp and the surrounding areas Trained over 7,500 health workers on on health information, early warning signs and protection against gender-based violence Facilitated the safe delivery of 1,700 babies Brought preventative and protective health information to 11,800 households and over 48,000 people each month through our community health workers Provided over 17,400 mental health consultations to refugees recovering from traumatic experiences Screened over 69,000 children for malnutrition Built a 50-person isolation and treatment center to protect refugees against COVID-19 when the pandemic struck Formin, a mother who safely delivered her baby in one of our clinics Medical Teams staff in Bangladesh Robert Lukwata was a program director in Bangladesh from October 2019 to June 2021 for Medical Teams. We asked him about our work there. What kind of impact has Medical Teams had in Bangladesh? How did Medical Teams make a difference? The impact Medical Teams had in the Rohingya refugee response was immeasurable. Above all, we were able to be there for the refugees during their moments of most need. These were mainly two moments: during the original influx from Myanmar and the early days of COVID-19 pandemic. Medical Teams was there. Medical Teams didn’t leave the refugees alone. We made a difference through inclusive participation of beneficiaries. We consulted them, welcomed their feedback and integrated it in our programming. Our programming was exceptionally practical, and we broke barriers to health. Culturally, the Rohingya is a sensitive community. Males and religious leaders wield a lot of influence on individuals and society as a whole. This kind of structural set up negatively impacted health outcomes; for instance, in 2018 and 2019, skilled birth deliveries in the camps were below 25 percent, a poor marker of women’s health. We used focused group discussions to identify cultural barriers to health. As Medical Teams Bangladesh, we employed a strategy that included engaging religious leaders, community leaders, senior women and traditional birth attendants. We had to first change their attitude and encourage them to champion maternal and child health promotion. After this work, we saw the skilled birth delivery rates increase to more than 90 percent in the areas where we work. What are you most proud of regarding your work there? I am most proud of our Covid-19 response. It was robust, effective and efficient. We were the first partner to open a 50-bed COVID-19 isolation and treatment center. We thoroughly trained our health workers to manage and contain COVID-19 cases. The isolation and treatment center became a model and training ground for other partners. Because of our work with COVID staffing, the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNHCR-Geneva consulted with Medical Teams to develop a health-work force estimator tool in the COVID-19 response. This was an excellent vote of confidence in Medical Teams staff. What do you think is important for people to know about our work in Bangladesh? Medical Teams invested strongly in capacity building of national and refugee staff. This resulted in ownership of the program and a sustainable way to respond to the crisis. Even as we leave, we are confident that the team we trained is able to continue providing essential services to beneficiaries. Medical Teams Bangladesh staff and volunteers Stories of impact from Bangladesh We encountered many stories during our time in Bangladesh — some inspiring and some heartbreaking. Here are a few that stand out. Hepzoor When we met Hepzoor, he was 18 years old and had fled Myanmar with his family. He had lost everything and was struggling with his mental health. After connecting with our Medical Teams mental health program, he emerged transformed: “Now, I’m stress-free, havihttps://www.medicalteams.org/blog/the-path-to-mental-well-being/ng sound sleep, doing regular activities properly, and I’ve started working again.” Excerpt: “One day while I was returning from school, I saw there was a conflict between the villagers. All on a sudden, Myanmar military shot many people. They burned our houses with fire along with other properties. I lost my friends, neighbors, house, as well as education. It was totally a horrible situation.” Read more >> Amina Amina embarked on a difficult four-day journey with her family fleeing violence in Myanmar. Medical Teams met Amina in Bangladesh at a refugee camp, where we were able to provide her and her family members with crucial medical care as well as hear their harrowing yet courageous story. Excerpt: They’d heard the gunfire while the military was still in the distance, so 18 men stepped up as look outs – watching for the military and telling the villagers when to run. By the time the military reached the village, all 18 men had been shot and killed. Read more >> Redwan We first met Redwan and his family at one of our medical clinics in Bangladesh. They had fled brutal violence in Myanmar. Grateful for our help and interested in our work, Redwan became a community health worker in his refugee camp, visiting neighbors to ensure they were healthy and received the care they needed. Excerpt: Redwan lived in a small village in Myanmar with his wife, two children and extended family. On a quiet morning in 2017, they heard gunshots nearby and ran out of their home to witness a slaughter. The entire village — 700 people — fled to a lush hill to take cover from the attack. Redwan and his family stayed hidden throughout the night, watching and waiting to see if the militants would leave. Read more >> And there are countless other stories like these we’ve attempted capture over the years. Read about the brave women of the Rohingya refugee camps or the perilous journeys of escape from violence. Blessing Medical Teams in Bangladesh We want to bless the refugees in Bangladesh as well as the partners that carry on our work. Though we are no longer able to physically support the efforts there, we are strong advocates for the needs of the Rohingya. Our hearts are with the people of Bangladesh, with whom we have worked closely and served since 2017. We will continue to stay attentive to needs and circumstances in this part of the world, particularly in response to natural disasters. Medical Teams in partnership with Food for the Hungry formed the Joint Rohingya Response Program consortium. Medical Teams would like to acknowledge the U.S. Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM) for its support of our work in Bangladesh. Medical Teams is grateful to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees for its ongoing support of our Bangladesh program, and Food for the Hungry as our partner in the Joint Rohingya Response Program consortium.