A Project Update, Thanks and Personal Account from Dr Mohammed Rahman, Doctors Worldwide Volunteer and Pilot Project Coordinator.
I travelled to Bangladesh in February 2018 to co-ordinate a new Doctors Worldwide project – the Postgraduate Fellowship in Migrant and Refugee Health. This six-month project will look at the feasibility of using UK-trained doctors to deliver health education in a relief setting, using modern educational techniques, and teaching materials that have been developed in direct response to local problems. Following assessment visits to Cox’s Bazar in November and December 2017, and close discussions with doctors, project managers and development workers on the ground, we identified Teaching, Training and Capacity Building as key areas in need of support. In January, an engagement event in London was well attended and supported by experienced health professionals, many of whom subsequently volunteered their time to develop the course. Fuelled by this support, Doctors Worldwide embarked on an ambitious project to strengthen the skills and capacity of front line staff responding to the Rohingya crisis. I just returned back to the UK from Bangladesh earlier this week, having attended the first two training sessions as part of our pilot project. I am pleased to report that the sessions were attended at full capacity, with 20 frontline doctors and healthcare workers participating. Training and supervision was delivered by 4 volunteer GPs from the UK, with additional support from senior local faculty and educators. We received very positive initial feedback, and a more detailed report will follow after an in-depth evaluation of these first 2 weeks, taking into account the perspective of all those involved.
I became a doctor in order to help people. When I hear about human suffering, disability and loss of life, I look to myself and to my skills, to see if there is something more that can be done. It can feel suffocating to consider the extent of worldwide suffering, but ignoring this suffering is not an option. Ultimately, the solutions lie with politicians, experts and world leaders, but this does not excuse me of my responsibility to help. The Rohingya refugee crisis is one in which there are more problems than solutions. There are critically high levels of malnutrition in this population. There is widespread trauma and a very low level of health literacy. The annual cost of supporting the refugees is £1bn and the refugees now find themselves living in the one of the most densely populated countries in the world, which is struggling with its own problems with poverty and climate change.
The numbers affected by this crisis are staggering – 720,000 children in need of humanitarian assistance and a total of 1.2 million people in need. The horrific stories coming from the refugees, have been described as ‘textbook examples of ethnic cleansing’ and ‘hallmarks of genocide’. The images from my last two visits are fresh in my mind – a 15 year old boy with a broken arm; an 18 month old child gasping for air; a 9 year old girl desperately avoiding eye contact and a 53 year old lady who was expressionless and struggling to speak. I have had the honour to travel on behalf of Doctors Worldwide to the refugee camps in South Eastern Bangladesh and to be the first doctor to tend to some of these brave people who travelled for days to escape unimaginable scenes in their home villages.
Front line staff have an incredibly difficult and tiring job to do, and it was wonderful to see their energy and their enthusiasm for the educational sessions. I am hopeful that this marks the start of a landmark piece of work which will have a significant impact on health professionals and patients and I am optimistic that we can empower this brave cohort to make a difference to the traumatised people they are seeing on a daily basis.
From inception, this project has been reliant on volunteer effort. The significant contribution made by each and every volunteer has allowed this project to be developed and launched in just two months. This is an exceptionally short space of time to develop a professional training course and I am deeply grateful for all your time, effort, thoughts and prayers.
I am particularly grateful to Dr Imran Siddiq, Dr Mizanul Hoque, Dr Hafiz Uddin, Dr Abid Shoaib, Dr Sonia Tsukagoshi, Dr Rizwan Ashiq, Dr Tahera Ruba and Dr Zaid Harmoodi, who all worked exceptionally hard along with their teams to ensure that we now have a strong base from which to develop this project further. In addition, it goes without saying that a special mention of appreciation is due to Doctors Worldwide who have rapidly scaled up their operational capacity to help implement this unique and vital project.
With thanks, Dr Mohammed Owais Mahmudur Rahman, Pilot Co-ordinator, Fellowship in Refugee Health.