Meredith Walsh (back row, fourth from right), CPI Board Chair Dr. Tom Lee (second row, third from left) and CPI Board Member Dr. Adam Richards (second row, second from left) with CPI Bangladesh staff and Community Health Volunteers in Cox's Bazar in June 2019. Photo: Reza Shahriar Rahman for Community Partners International
Meredith Walsh, Community Partners International (CPI)’s Country Director in Bangladesh, reflects on the last 20 months working to support Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazar.
I arrived in Bangladesh in early November 2017 to help Community Partners International (CPI) set up operations in Cox’s Bazar. Just over two months earlier, this small sliver of land squeezed between Rakhine State in western Myanmar and the Bay of Bengal, became the world’s largest refugee camp virtually overnight.
Health providers in Myanmar are continuing efforts to contain a nationwide measles outbreak that has infected more than 1,300 people and led to the death of one child. The Myanmar Ministry of Health and Sports (MoHS) has launched supplementary immunization campaigns in affected states and regions, but low immunization coverage in many communities across the country poses a significant challenge to measles control.
For children who become infected with measles, vitamin A deficiency due to undernourishment is a recognized risk factor that can lead to severe measles. In Kawkareik Township, Kayin State, Myanmar, the Karen Department of Health and Welfare (KDHW) and the MoHS District Health Department are cooperating to ensure that children under five receive vitamin A supplements to help prevent severe measles in case of infection.
On February 15, 2019, around 50 pregnant and reproductive-age women in the Yangon suburb of South Dagon, Myanmar, gathered to learn about the hepatitis B virus (HBV), including the nature of HBV, transmission pathways, treatment options and prevention. This health education session was part of a pilot study, led by Community Partners International (CPI) in collaboration with the Myanmar Liver Foundation (MLF) and the B. K. Kee Foundation, to develop a workable and effective community-based model to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HBV in low-income peri-urban communities in Myanmar.
Shomshida lives in the world’s largest and most densely populated refugee camp, Kutupalong, in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. Kutupalong is currently home to more than 600,000 Rohingya refugees from Rakhine State. Myanmar. She shares her small shelter, a rickety structure of bamboo and tarpaulin, with her husband and two-year old son. In late August 2017, she fled the violence in Rakhine State with her extended family. They walked for 15 days through jungle and across rivers, eventually reaching the border and crossing into Bangladesh. Her elderly father was unable to walk so they carried him throughout the arduous journey.
Despite significant progress in recent years, Myanmar continues to face many challenges to ensure that children thrive. Community Partners International (CPI) is supporting a cooperative initiative between the Government of Myanmar and the Karen Ethnic Health Organizations Consortium to use cash transfers to boost the health of children in the first 1,000 days of life in contested areas of Kayin (Karen) State.
In Myanmar, an estimated 116,800 babies are born premature (before 37 completed weeks of gestation) each year. Among children under five, 21% of deaths are attributed to premature birth complications. A growing body of evidence suggests that kangaroo mother care (KMC), where mothers hold premature babies skin-to-skin to prevent hypothermia and support early breastfeeding, is one of several key ways to help premature babies survive and thrive.
In August 2017, Shofika fled violence in Rakhine State, Myanmar, and crossed the border into Bangladesh with her husband and three children, ages six, four and two. She sought shelter in the Kutupalong Expansion Site refugee camp in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, that houses more than 600,000 Rohingya refugees. It is currently the world’s largest refugee camp. In early 2018, Shofika became pregnant with her fourth child.
On August 9 and 11, 2018, Community Partners International (CPI) distributed Dignity Kits to 500 women of reproductive age, including pregnant women and adolescent girls, affected by ongoing flooding in Kayin State, Myanmar. The Dignity Kits contain a range of items to support female hygiene and protect the health and safety of women facing displacement and other challenges due to the floods. These include a sarong, a bra, underwear, sanitary pads, a blanket, soap, laundry detergent, a toothbrush and toothpaste.
In late May, and early June, 2018, health worker teams from the Karen Department of Health and Welfare (KDHW) embarked on a fourth round of vaccinations for babies, young children and pregnant women in contested and conflict-affected areas of Kayin State, Myanmar. These communities are remote and hard to reach, accessible only along dirt tracks through mountainous and densely forested terrain that become virtually impassable during the monsoon season. This is the story of one team’s journey to provide lifesaving vaccinations to three villages in Kyainseikgyi township.
On January 19, 2018, 30 active and skilled members of the Rohingya refugee community in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, completed a five-day training course to help prepare them to become Community Health Volunteers. The course was supported and facilitated by Community Partners International (CPI) in association with our community partner Prottyashi, with training participants from Prottyashi and PULSE Bangladesh.