Two years on: Rohingya mothers still struggle to get healthcare
This month in 2017, hundred thousands of Rohingya families were forced to leave their homes due to killings and burnings of their villages in Myanmar. Two years have passed since they crossed into Bangladesh with nothing. Children and their mothers have been living in refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar with difficult access to health and recurring epidemic threats due to monsoon rains. The latest reports talk about almost one million Rohingya refugees who still live in the region of Cox’s Bazar, mostly in informal settlements.
The 27-year old Azara* sits cross legged on a bench and holds her 6-day old son on her lap, her worn out sandals lie on the floor. The baby has no name yet. She lives in a one-room windowless bamboo shelter with her husband and five children. It’s damp and hot: nothing stops the sun other than a dark plastic and there is no electricity to run a fan. The dirt ground transforms into mud when it rains, so they must hang all their belongings on the walls. They have no income as her husband can’t work in the camp.
Besides child protection and hygiene sensitisation activities, Terre des hommes (Tdh) trains local community volunteers to visit the shelters of the Rohingya people, a work that is about establishing trust to help them improve their health condition. “The community is often reluctant to seek out healthcare because they are very distrustful of people they don’t know,” says our community volunteer Senu Ara. 65% of the deliveries occur in the shed with the help of traditional birth attendants who have no skills and knowledge to solve unexpected complications. This keeps maternal and child mortality rate high in the area. The health volunteers play a vital role to promote healthy practices and disease prevention. They do treatments to prevent illnesses, teach early warning signs in new-borns and maternal health and encourage visits to the health centre. “Tdh is developing a reputation for giving good support and caring for the patients,” Senu adds.
One day, she visited Azara. When the community volunteer found out she was pregnant, she gave her antenatal care. She also checked on her children to see if they were sick and explained her the importance of going to see a midwife. Azara looks at us with a smile on her face: “If Senu didn’t come to my place, I wouldn’t know that this service existed, as we don’t leave our house often.”
The pouring rain floods parts of the camp and creates a lot of mud that sometimes comes up to the knees. This makes the access to health centres difficult. Sharnima Khatan, our midwife, says that “it can also be a result of their husbands forbidding it. It is very challenging to convince the fathers that the baby and mother are at risk.” Azara trusted the community volunteer and received anti-natal care at the health centre. Lovingly rubbing the baby’s face, she says: “All I want in my life is for my children to be safe, healthy and happy, but unless we can go back to Myanmar, I cannot see a future.”
In the beginning of August, over 500,000 Rohingya refugees got an ID card, which gives them the right to return to Myanmar, even though it’s still too risky. In a joint statement with another 60 NGOs working in the two countries, we called for human rights for all to be recognised in Rakhine State and for Rohingya refugees to have a role in decision-making about their lives, including conditions for their return to Myanmar.
For now, Azara is thankful that her baby and her children are in good health thanks to the medication support and doctor’s visits. She also learned about the importance of breastfeeding and hygiene practices such as handwashing and water purification. She adds: “I try to be happy and this makes it easier for my children even if life is difficult in the camp.”
It is estimated that more than one million people are in need of humanitarian assistance. Tdh remains committed to providing support to both refugees and host communities and our goal is to provide sustainable assistance to ensure their protection, health and dignity.
*Name changed for protection reasons
Photo credits: ©Tdh