Kiwi nurses, midwives and health workers are providing urgent support to people fleeing violence in Myanmar, as families continue to cross the border into Bangladesh.

So far, New Zealand Red Cross has deployed five aid workers to support the international response in Bangladesh, where thousands of people are arriving every week from Myanmar. Another two aid workers are scheduled to depart before Christmas.

More than 625,000 people, fleeing violence in Myanmar’s Rakhine state, have arrived in Bangladesh since August, joining another 200,000 who fled earlier. The arrival of so many people in such a short time has seriously strained resources and infrastructure in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar area. Thousands are in need of food, safe water, shelter and health care.

Whangarei midwife Donna Collins, who has been working in Cox’s Bazar for almost a month, says it is hard seeing pregnant women arriving across the border with nothing but their children. Many are suffering from health problems after walking long distances with little food or water.

“These are the toughest women I have ever encountered. Some days I feel angry that we are the ambulance at the bottom of a massive cliff … To see such human suffering is gut-wrenching."

Nurse Guru Dev Singh has just returned from working in Cox’s Bazar, where she was shocked at the huge scale of the health problems Red Cross teams were seeing.

“There are children and babies with severe dehydration and malnutrition. I saw a baby so severely malnourished it just had skin on bone, the muscles had wasted away. Many lactating mothers and pregnant women are in a similar dire condition. Everywhere there are people with chest infections, pneumonia, diarrhoea and skin conditions like scabies.”

“Wall-to-wall human suffering”

Communications aid worker Corinne Ambler recently returned to Wellington after spending two months working in Bangladesh. She says it is the most serious, complex and difficult emergency she has worked in.

“The sheer scale of people needing help, combined with the monsoon rain, the heat and the lack of roads into camps is making it challenging for humanitarian agencies.

“There are people as far as the eye can see, living in squalid, muddy, filthy conditions, without enough food, water, toilets and showers. There are hundreds of thousands of babies and children, and most are malnourished.

“Babies are dying in front of our eyes. It is a heartbreaking and unbelievable situation, one that I can only describe as wall-to-wall human suffering.”

Red Cross Red Crescent response

Red Cross has opened a field hospital near the camps, staffed by both international and Bangladesh doctors and nurses. It has 60 beds, an isolation unit for diarrhoeal diseases such as cholera, an operating theatre, delivery suite, and three wards. It is totally self-sufficient with its own electricity and water supply, kitchen, sleeping quarters and laboratory.

The Red Crescent and Red Cross are running mobile medical clinics in some camps, as well as child-friendly spaces, and is distributing food, water, tarpaulins, rope, blankets, mosquito nets and hygiene kits.

Red Cross has also launched a cholera vaccination campaign to lower the risk of water-borne diseases spreading, and teams are providing psychological support in the camps to help people cope with the emotional challenges of their situation.

How to help

Support Red Cross’ work helping those affected by violence in Myanmar by donating to our emergency appeal.