(From left) Sirazum Chowdhury, Mohammad Zafar Chowdhury, Abdullah Al-Mahmood, Salman Uddin, Yasir Chowdhury and Nihad Khan meet after a daylong health camp at Ramu in Cox's Bazar recently. Photo: STAR
Yasir Chowdhury stood in the centre of a scrum that grew bigger in a minute. The fourth year medical student from King's College London intently listened to each person of the crowd, handed them a slip of paper and referred them to a doctor.
A few feet away, a couple stood beside Salman Uddin, another doctor, listening to a middle-aged woman who was repeatedly pointing at her stomach and trying to tell him she had digestive problems. Salman gave her a slip and referred her to a general medicinal doctor.
Then there was Sirajum Chowdhury who tried to make a queue out of the flocks of patients who huddled against each other trying to elbow their way through the crowd to the doctors' chambers.
They were at the Hospital for Women and Children at Ramu, one of Cox's Bazar's remotest and deprived upazilas, where child mortality, malnutrition and female literacy rates are far below the satisfactory level.
The three aspiring doctors were part of a bigger team of 14 medical students representing the non-profit organisation Elective Aid, a medical sub-project of Selfless, a UK-based project, to help build charitable hospitals and clinics in rural areas, as well as to provide medical transportation in underserved areas throughout the world.
Not only are they studying for their forth year final examinations in medicine at King's College, but they were in Bangladesh embarking on a mammoth project.
Led by Na'eem Ahmed, chairman of Selfless, the team was using part of their medical placement abroad, also known as their elective, to set up health camps near Sylhet and Cox's Bazar where much-needed medical aid and assistance were required.
Mamnoon Ditta, also studying at the King's College London, said: “From what we have seen, the main problem in these parts seems to be the fact that people are suffering from the most basic nutrition and they barely have access to any healthcare.”
Ditta, 23, who has a first-class honours degree in Biomaterials Science, said most of the people are not even aware of their problems, or whether do they even have a problem.
“In the two camps in Sylhet and Cox's Bazar, I saw a lot of children, all of whom had problems one would expect in such places. They had malnourishment, the sight of despairing mothers who had never seen doctors, pleading for you, to see their children was very saddening and distressing, more so because we could not see all the patients,” he said.
Yasir said, “The sad aspects of both the camps were that a lot of patients were deprived of things that in the West are considered as granted. They had a wide range of problems which presented a challenge to deal with them accordingly.”
Other team members included Mohammad Zafar Chowdhury, Nihad Khan, Abdullah Al-Mahmood, Shahib Ali, Mubeenur Rahman, Abdul Aleem, Rahela Isam, Shamima Begum and Rumana Akter.
“We had a plan to come to this part of the world to provide medical support as well as to obtain knowledge about the local population,” said Yasir, adding: “We decided to collaborate with some not-for-profit organisations working on similar fields.”
After spending a long day at the hospital, five miles off the Cox's Bazar town, the team joined the others in Dhaka to visit acid burnt patients in a number of hospitals. They left Bangladesh on August 5 for Thailand and China, ending their two-week tour.
“It was fun and enjoyable, a slightly different way of practising medicine we are used to,” said Shahib.
“We are utterly drained and although I felt a great deal of contentment, I was somewhat disillusioned at the plight of the local people,” he said, adding: “Things we take for granted in the UK are only within the grasp of the rich and well-off in Bangladesh.”
Abdullah Al-Mahmood, another 4th year student at the same college, said: “We saw mothers who had never had the opportunity to take their children to a doctor, despite having serious problems. At times, patients had to go to a hospital for further tests but did not have the money or transportation to do so.”
“Nonetheless, it was a rewarding tour day, I learnt a lot about the mindset of the people and the paucity of healthcare provision in the region,” he added.