Johora, 60, came to the IOM-supported community clinic in Kutupalong in Ukhia upazila of Cox’s Bazar with Shajeda, her 20-year-old daughter-in-law, who is in her eighth month of pregnancy and expecting her first child.
As they waited for Shajed’s checkup, they leafed through the little blue book given to expectant mothers by the clinic, detailing their medical history and appointments throughout the pregnancy.
The clinic, outside the Kutupalong makeshift settlement where over 613,000 Rohingya refugees are seeking refuge from violence in Myanmar, provides healthcare to local people like Johora’s family, as well as the refugees, , reports the UN Migration Agency on Thursday.
On a normal day, clinic staff treat as many as 150 patients — often half of them locals and half refugees.
Johora lives close to the clinic, which is located just a few miles from Bangladesh’s border with Myanmar. The newly arrived refugees trudge past her house on their way from the border to the vast, makeshift settlement.
Johora is quietly proud of the fact that she has cooked food for close to 400 destitute Rohingya families since the current influx started on August 25. Although, like most people in the neighbourhood, she has very little, she felt that she had no choice but to help them with some food and a place to stay. Two and a half months into the crisis, some of the families are still living on her land.
“I remember two similar influxes of people, when violence broke out a long time ago, but this one is much bigger,” she said. The stories of suffering she has heard from her guests are like nothing that she has ever heard before. “I am trying to support them as best I can, but it is hard,” she observes.
Like other members of the local community in Cox’s Bazar, Johora also worries that the huge influx of people since August will over-stretch the limited services, including healthcare, that exist in the area.
Suma Sharma, a local IOM community health promoter and outreach worker, who covers the Kutupalong area where Johora and Shajeda live, recognises the problem.
In the three years that she has been working with IOM, she has helped over 100 pregnant women and assisted in 37 births. She tries to get women to the clinic in time for delivery.
On the day that Johora and Shajeda came for the checkup, Suma brought in a patient whom she had been supporting through nine months of pregnancy and was now in labour. The young mother safely delivered a healthy baby just four hours after arriving at the clinic.
Suma not only works with pregnant women, but also takes care of other vulnerable patients, making at least 10–12 home visits a day to both Bangladeshi and Rohingya families. She is responsible for 300 households comprising roughly 2,000 people.
IOM, in partnership with Mukti, a local NGO, has some 262 health promoters and outreach health workers in Cox’s Bazar district.
“One of the most important aspects of my work is visiting families in their homes,” said Suma.
She provides basic primary healthcare to families and, when she finds a patient with a complicated case, she refers them to the clinic.
She also promotes vital health awareness messages on maternal health, hygiene practices, childhood immunization and communicable diseases at the community-level.
In the harsh living conditions of the Cox’s Bazar settlements, some of her work ends in tragedy. Recently a pregnant woman she referred to the district hospital suffered complications and eventually both she and her baby died. Suma believes that her work is saving other women from a similar fate.