It took about 20 days into the Monsoon season, and 4 days of non-stop raining for us to experience the worst of it. This past Wednesday morning, we received a call from our country director. We thought it was him letting us know that our van had arrived to take us to the hospital. Instead, it was him informing us that the hospital had been “marooned.” Being here for about a month now, Faye and I have witnessed heavy rainfalls in Cox’s Bazar before. It alarmed us to see the streets and buildings fill up with water and debris the way they did. We thought the hospital being “marooned” would’ve been to some effect, similar to some of what we had seen in Cox’s Bazar so far. But nothing could have prepared us to fully understand what state we’d find our hospital in. It would be the first time either of us would experience a severe flood situation.
It only took 4 days for the Cox’s Bazar and Chittagong region to experience the worst rainfall and destruction that it has in years. The heavy rainfalls put the Cox’s Bazar Mother’s and Children’s hospital in crisis mode. The entire hospital was inundated and therefore all operations had to be adjourned until the flood waters receded. Patients had to be moved immediately from their wards to drier parts of the office building. The training that we had commenced a week ago to train VHWs on how to perform antenatal care using SMS technology had to be postponed.
Accessing healthcare in a rural setting such as the one we work can be already a challenge on its own. Approximately 300, 000 people depend on our hospital, along with another government hospital, which are the only ones in the region. Before the monsoon season hit, learning that most people in the region where our hospital was located did not always have access for reasons such as cost and distance, seemed to us one of the most paramount challenges. This week however has highlighted a completely different public health challenge that we had not even thought of as a barrier to healthcare access. Bangladesh is most vulnerable to natural disasters, as it often experiences cyclones, landslides and severe flooding. It is also during this season that quality healthcare is most needed. Waterborne diseases are rampant during the monsoon season, resulting in diarrhea and other bacterial diseases. Having to walk for a long period of time in several feet of floodwater to access a healthcare facility is difficult enough, but having to do it with a severe illness or having to carry your loved one in those conditions is just unimaginable. Sadly, this is and was the reality for many this past week.
Every week we spend in Bangladesh exposes us to more conditions upon which access to healthcare depends on. This week in particular has exposed us to a challenge that cannot be easily solved or predicted. Although natural disasters can be prepared for, doing so in low-resource countries remains a challenge.