Bangladesh: Work begins in the Chittagong Hill Tracts

  • International staff: 31
  • National staff: 192 In August 2000, floods struck Bangladesh, leaving over half a million people homeless. Based in the capital, Dhaka, MSF watched for possible disease outbreaks through its Natural Disaster Preparedness program, set up in the wake of the floods that hit the country in 1998. Although the Bengali government seemed to have most of the needs covered, MSF stood ready to intervene if requested. MSF also has several long-term projects in the country. In December 1999, MSF opened two clinics in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, a hilly region in southeastern Bangladesh, and also started outreach and water and sanitation programs. The one hundred thousand or so people who live in the area are Bengali and various tribal populations. MSF is the first aid organization to have permission to work in the region, where unkept promises of autonomy for the tribal people have resulted in off-and-on low-level conflict. Access to health care, especially for the non-Bengali population, is limited. The MSF clinics have about 1,200 consultations each month. Major health problems in the region include malaria, respiratory infections, skin diseases and diarrhea. For several years, MSF has been working in Cox's Bazaar in southeastern Bangladesh with Rohingya refugees from Myanmar (Burma), just across the Naf River which forms the border between the two countries. MSF provides medical care to some of refugees, who now number about 13,000, and also monitors ongoing repatriation of the refugees to see whether it is occurring on a voluntary basis. Further south, an MSF primary health care program based in seaside villages near Cox's Bazaar drew to a close in December 1999. Clinics in the villages of Shamlapur and Sonarpara served the area's 25,000 people. MSF also trained village doctors to prescribe medicine and run local pharmacies. Both clinics were turned over to the community. MSF began work in Bangladesh in 1997.