Fred Hollows helps Rohingya refugees with cataract surgery
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Fred Hollows helps Rohingya refugees with cataract surgery

Stories/317 , Issues/Healthcare
Fred Hollows Foundation, Dunning Avenue, Rosebery NSW, Australia
23rd May 2018
Fred Hollows helps Rohingya refugees with cataract surgery
Of the near-700,000 Rohingya refugees, almost 50,000 are in need of cataract surgery.

Shamsun tugs at the arm of a Fred Hollows Foundation worker, trying to tell her story.

She is one of almost 700,000 Rohingya refugees who has fled Myanmar since last August and arrived at the overcrowded camps in Bangladesh with just the clothes on her back.

All of the refugees’ stories are harrowing.

But Shamsun’s is particularly devastating. Blind with bilateral cataract, she could only hear while her husband was shot dead and five of her children were killed with machetes. Their bodies were burnt to destroy the evidence.

Her neighbours confirmed to her what her eyes couldn’t: her family was gone.

With the help of her son-in-law and other villagers, she escaped and spent four days in the jungle before finally making it to the refugee camps in Cox’s Bazaar, Bangladesh.

Pictured: Shamsun.
Pictured: Shamsun.

Walking for between four and 16 days through the jungle across mountains and rivers is unimaginable. But for refugees who are also blind, it’s impossible without the help of family or neighbours.

The Rohingya say that they have never been able to see a doctor, or visit a hospital. Blindness is one of those most prevalent conditions, with a cataract rate five times that of the local Bangladeshi community. It is estimated that up to 50,000 people at the Balukhali refugee camp are in need of cataract surgery.

The plight of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya people is now widely recognised as the world's fastest growing refugee crisis.

According to reports, risking death by sea or on foot, almost 700,000 have fled the destruction of their homes and persecution in the northern Rakhine province of Myanmar for neighbouring Bangladesh since August 2017.Arriving in the area known as Cox's Bazaar, the refugees say they fled after troops burnt their villages and attacked civilians. Many women and girls report having been raped.

The refugees are not allowed to leave the camp without an escort.. Shamsun and 60 other refugees are taken by armed security from the makeshift eye clinic at the camp into the town, to the Baitush Sharaf Eye Hospital, local partner hospital of The Fred Hollows Foundation. 

Walking through the wards of the hospital there are almost endless stories of brutality and escape like Shamsun’s.

Dr Mohammad Mushfiqur Rahman is the chief surgeon and operates on the refugees – 58 straight surgeries from 4.45pm until after 10.30pm.

Baitush Sharaf is the only eye hospital at Cox’s Bazaar. The 50 bed hospital serves a population of 2.5 million people and demand is already too high, but now they suspect about 50,000 refugees need cataract surgery. 

Pictured: Cataract surgery.
Pictured: Cataract surgery.

Secretary, Director General and Chairman of Baitush Sharaf Eye Hospital MM Sirajul Islam takes a more positive view of the crisis/ “It is a blessing in disguise that the blind people came from Myanmar because they wouldn’t have gotten services there,” he explains.

The Chairman says that without The Fred Hollows Foundation being the first to instigate help for the Rohingya, the local hospital would not have established an outreach in the refugee camp.

“The Fred Hollows Foundation coming to do this was like a hand came down from heaven. And it has inspired other NGOs to help.”

For Shamsun it’s hard to imagine there’s anything to smile about. However, when the patches come off the morning after her surgery, Shamsun is happy to see again. She smiles at the nurse and clasps her hands in thanks.

Pictured: Shamsun after cataract surgery.
Pictured: Shamsun after cataract surgery.

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