Volunteer Reflections: A General Practitioner’s experience treating Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh

By Dr. Abdul, General Practitioner

I am a UK trained General Practitioner currently based in the Middle East, after working for many years in the UK. Recently, a few of my General Practitioner colleagues from the UK went on a short-term medical mission with MedGlobal in Bangladesh to serve Rohingya people in refugee camps. They speak highly of the work MedGlobal and their local healthcare partner organizations are doing in many regions around the globe.

My colleagues’ experiences and feedback inspired me to volunteer with MedGlobal. The UN reports on the Rohingya crisis are well documented and, despite the best efforts from Bangladesh Government, the UN and international NGOs report that there is still a lot of work needed to resolve the Rohingya crisis. With this knowledge and my colleagues’ feedback on the current situation from their trip, I too decided to volunteer for the same mission.

I was deployed at a Primary Health Care Center in Camp 4 of Kutupalong Rohingya Refugee camp which is close to Bangladesh and Myanmar border, the largest refugee camp in the world. The health care facility is managed by OBAT Helpers, in partnership with MedGlobal, providing primary care services. It is run by physicians from both these organizations along with some physician assistants, nurses, pharmacists, and emergency care staff. Many staff members are from the local Rohingya community doing voluntary work and they are an integral part of the medical team in providing good medical care to all the refugees.

Before my arrival in Bangladesh, the MedGlobal administrator created a WhatsApp group of the doctors on that mission to help us with queries and coordination at work. On the day of my arrival, I had an induction by MedGlobal medical coordinators who went through various aspects of the mission in detail, including the background information, physician’s role, health needs of Rohingyas, mandatory documentation, checks and legalities with local Government. All of this facilitated us to provide good clinical care to our patients. Most NGOs working for Rohingyas stay in Cox’s Bazar which is a town about a two-hour drive from the campsites. The daily transportation to and from camps was good with a reliable driver.

As it was my first medical mission trip, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but by the end it turned out to be such an unforgettable and emotional experience, seeing the human suffering so up close. The unbearable suffering they went through before being uprooted from their homes and country and the struggle to live with limited or no access to basic human needs. The psychological impact of all this and physical strain was all so evident. The frequent outbreaks of diseases and lack of proper care adds to their misery. One thing of note was how malnourished and underweight my patients were in the camp, which is quite the opposite of what I deal with in my current practice. Children and young adults make up a large percentage of the total population, the high birth rates among the refugees likely contribute to this number. However, despite all these struggles, the Rohingya refugees seem very grateful to Bangladesh and every organization for caring and continuing to support them.

My days at the camp went quickly and soon the time came to fly back. It was a memorable trip. Witnessing first-hand the challenges and hardships Rohingya refugees are facing and witnessing the amazing humanitarian work being carried out by so many organizations for these refugees. I would advise anyone who wishes to give their time in volunteering or fundraising to serve such people irrespective of race or religion, to look at various reputable agencies and choose the one with a good track record and reputation. I hope to return in the future to provide medical care to this community or elsewhere across the world. I would be happy to volunteer for MedGlobal again as I felt their admin and medical staff is passionate about the humanitarian and relief work.