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It’s been a busy summer for Fiona Blair. Every day, as other Kiwis hit the beach or relaxed in the sun, the Christchurch nurse donned her scrubs and went to work.
Fiona has just returned from Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, where she spent four weeks working in Red Cross’ Kutupulong Field Hospital.
More than 655,000 people fleeing violence in Myanmar have crossed into Bangladesh since August 2017. Most are living in makeshift camps in Cox’s Bazar. The Red Cross field hospital provides vital healthcare for people living in the camps and the local Bangladeshi community.
Fiona helped run the hospital’s outpatients department, where staff were seeing more than 250 patients every day. People arrived seeking treatment for a wide variety of health issues, including: measles, diarrhoea, broken bones, burns, diphtheria, complications giving birth, psychological trauma and malnutrition.
Many of the diseases are preventable in New Zealand but in Cox’s Bazar, where resources are limited, they can quickly become life-threatening.
From trauma and loss to joy and laughter
Fiona remembers meeting one very unwell child who, at first glance, looked about 10 months old. The child weighed only 7kg and Fiona was shocked to later discover they were 2 years old.
“We saw many children with measles, which is particularly severe when combined with malnutrition,” she says.
“Not all outcomes are positive but every patient is given the best treatment we have available, as well as all of our energy, empathy and skill.”
Surviving on freeze-dried food, taking cold showers and encountering large spiders, bats and beetles all became part of Fiona’s routine in Cox’s Bazar. A special effort was made at Christmas, when, despite being far from home, the team came together to celebrate.
“We gathered for a special menu, Christmas songs from all the countries represented and an excuse to all be together and celebrate the good work we are undertaking in difficult circumstances.
“The last weeks were the hardest, with trauma, deaths and loss a daily occurrence. Yet there has also been joy, laughter, children playing, businesses thriving and the wonderful, kind, honest, generous Bangladeshi people offering a home to people in need, despite their own hardships.”
Supporting the international response
Red Cross and Red Crescent teams are providing life-saving humanitarian aid, including healthcare, water and sanitation and psychological support, to people fleeing violence in Myanmar. Fiona is one of eight New Zealand Red Cross aid workers who have been deployed to Cox’s Bazar support the international response.