Teachings of the Bangladesh field hospital carry us far

Saara Mansikkamäki
Sakari Piippo
Emilia Kangasluoma

Lives have been saved every day since October 2017 at the field hospital in Bangladesh, managed by the Finnish Red Cross. Now, the hospital along with its equipment has been transferred to the local Red Crescent, which will continue producing health services together with other organisations.

‘The field hospital can’t solve the situation of people fleeing from Myanmar, but we have been able to save lives every day,’ says Healthcare Consultant Rea Noponen from the Finnish Red Cross.

Noponen has worked at the hospital several times, first as inspector and later as team leader for aid workers. She has recently returned from the hospital, which was handed over to the Bangladesh Red Crescent at the turn of the year.

Over 900,000 people who have fled the violence in Myanmar to the other side of the border in Bangladesh live in huts at the Cox’s Bazar camp. The field hospital was founded in October 2017, as the number of fleeing people increased at an alarming rate.

‘The hospital has carried out extremely important work, because it has been the only place in the camp where demanding operations have been carried out around the clock. We are trusted, and along with the Red Crescent, we were the only operators whose foreign staff could work at the camp around the clock,’ Noponen says.

‘This, if anything, is the work of the Red Cross.’

The work for helping people continues

One of the central patient groups at the Cox’s Bazar hospital were mothers in labour. Over 600 babies were born at the field hospital in just over a year. The hospital also treated patients with ordinary infectious diseases, victims of traffic accidents, people with burn injuries, and children with infectious diseases which are rare in western countries, such as measles, among others.

The hospital treated a total of over 50,000 patients, or an average of 100–160 people per day.

The work is now continued by the Bangladesh Red Crescent, which offers health centre services at the hospital and refers the patients to further care, if necessary. After the founding of the field hospital, other organisations and operators have also founded hospitals at the camp, aiming to continue emergency surgical care on alternate days.

Training has made an impression

The field hospitals, which are part of the Red Cross Emergency Response Units, are equipped to operate for four months after a disaster at most. This time, it was known already when the hospital was opened that help would be needed for a significantly longer period. That is why the Red Cross has trained dozens of local Red Crescent employees and volunteers in the operation of the hospital and the healthcare work.

‘When I returned to the hospital a few months ago, I noticed that particularly the competence of nurses, psychosocial support volunteers, and maintenance personnel had improved significantly during the months,’ Rea Noponen says.

‘When the nurses were asked about their most significant learning experience during the year, and one of them replied “treating and caring for everyone the same, regardless of their background,” I was particularly touched.’

Getting help through with help from donors

In the scope of the Finnish Red Cross, the operation has been enormous. The Finnish Red Cross took over the management of the hospital from the Norwegian Red Cross, which managed the hospital for the first four months. Since its opening, a total of over 500 international aid workers from 18 countries worked at the hospital.

The operations of the hospital were funded through financing from the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland, ECHO, the European Commission's Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, and national Red Cross and Red Crescent societies. Thanks to the funds donated to the Finnish Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund, the Red Cross was able to act as soon as the need arose for opening the field hospital.

‘The hospital showed us the tangible effects of donated money,’ Rea Noponen says.

‘It also showed how important health, peace and security are in life.’