Disaster Assistance Response Team member Eldred Willey, recounts the experience constructing Samaritan's Purse new Diphtheria Clinic in the Kutupalong camp, Bangladesh to meet the growing need of Rohingya refugees.
Ten days to rescue the Rohingya
by Eldred Willey
It took just ten days for Samaritans Purse to turn a piece of scrubland in Bangladesh into a diphtheria clinic. By New Year’s Eve the team had it built, staffed, equipped, inventoried and ready to receive patients.
Samaritans Purse was responding to the tragic Rohingya crisis, which since August has seen some 650,000 refugees flooding across the border from Myanmar, fleeing violence. The United Nations have described the Rohingya as “the most persecuted minority in the world”. At least 6000 have died escaping over the border to Bangladesh, and many of those who escaped arrived famished, with just the clothes on their backs.
Most of the Rohingya refugees have settled in the huge Kutupalong camp, where half a million souls now jostle together in overcrowded and insanitary conditions. Black and orange plastic shacks with sparse, shallow latrines make a perfect breeding ground for epidemics.
One of the first to strike was diphtheria – a serious bacterial disease affecting the mucous membranes of the nose and throat. The invading microorganisms restrict breathing and sometimes drop down into the lungs where they cause inflammation. So far Kutupalong camp has seen 2,500 people infected and 27 deaths. Three-quarters are under 15 years old.
For those ten days Samaritans Purse staff worked from dawn to dusk – and beyond – with a laser focus: to create a top-quality medical facility right in the refugee camp. As there was no airlift during this period, the team sourced all supplies in-country including:
oxygen tanks and airways, antibiotics and antihistamines, analgesics and tranquillisers, syringes, cannulas and gloves and gowns.
The site team recruited 100 men as site labourers, setting them to work digging humanitarian-standard nine-foot latrines, hooking up a water bladder and pump, and connecting a generator. Samaritans Purse is leading the way in bringing an effective medical response to a people in desperate need.
Scripture says that Christians are citizens of heaven, and nowhere adds that they have dual nationality. So they should feel a special affinity for the afflicted Rohingya, who find themselves in a similar stateless condition on earth.