2018 Bangladesh Visit

On the 16th November 2018 I (Rachel Andrews) returned to BNSB Hospital Moulvibazar, Bangladesh as the representative of our new charity – Vision For Bangladesh. The charity was made official and registered with the Charities Commission in December 2017. It now has 6 trustees of which I am one.

Over the past 13 years I have been supporting this hospital with my nursing skills and other various practical ways, to take the hospital forward. This visit however marked the start of a new venture. We wanted to support the hospital in a bigger way.

At the airport in Sylhet we were met by two dear friends, Sadiq the driver and Priyota a nurse who I have known since 2006. Although I only visit yearly, good friends always take over where they left off, and this return was no different. It’s always good to laugh together right from the start!

The purpose of this visit was firstly to take a good friend, Hayley Coates with me. Hayley is a professional photographer and as photos are so important as visual backups to our message she offered to visit Bangladesh with me to build a larger portfolio of photos for use on social media and in our marketing.

Our welcome at the hospital had the usual genuine warmth about, you can’t find anywhere better for hospitality than Bangladesh. The hospital has a very loyal retentive staff-base so I have got to know all of them, plus many of their families.

We got down to work quickly. We had three objectives we wanted to achieve in our short stay. We wanted to identify areas of need we could help finance, medical conditions needing awareness campaigns and equipment that could be upgraded.

From the minute you hit the streets in Bangladesh you are surrounded by the poverty and malnutrition that blights so many millions of lives. 1 in 4 Bangladeshis live in poverty and around 12.9 % live in extreme poverty. This overriding factor leads to malnutrition and Vitamin A deficiency. Along with childhood disease like Measles, which is still prevalent, these are the main causes of blindness, especially among children. Sadly 80% of blindness in the developing world is needless and can be prevented or treated. Cataracts being a large cause of all blindness.

Vision For Bangladesh was first started when I was made aware there were some children needing the vital sight saving cataract surgery who could not afford it . The hospital has very little government funding, and relies on charity funding only, which means every patient needs to contribute something to the cost of their surgery. For the poorest patients this sometimes means no surgery at all and they walk away into a future of darkness with no hope .

We wanted to help and we started by paying for the children whose parents were unable to contribute. All these people earn below the sustainable living Bangladesh wage.

None of them are able to afford surgery to save their sight or the sight of any children born blind.

We want to show the hospital we care enough to have formed a registered charity in the UK to work in partnership with them to reach and treat blind patients most in need.

We wanted to look at the most immediate need Vision For Bangladesh could help fund.

  • Identifying local areas which had the highest rate of people living in extreme poverty
  • Equipment most in need of replacing from age
  • Extra equipment needed from the increasing volume of patients

Ways of raising awareness of cataract surgery that could save the sight of the young and old alike.

It was evident the hospital was striving to move forward in its practice and expertise but financially all areas had a huge restriction on them due to lack of funds.

Having worked as a volunteer at this hospital since 2006 I have come to know the staff and their families well. They have always welcomed help with open arms and are very responsive to ways they can improve their practice. The hospital only has two trained nurses, the rest are paramedics with ophthalmic training only, but the care for the patient is excellent and done with true dedication to the need of the poorest of society.

During our stay we visited an Eye Camp run to offer free diagnosis for the very poor in the town of Sylhet.

We visited several tea gardens where children have never had access to an ophthalmic doctor and we observed the general working at the hospital and its high patient volume turnover.

After our two week visit we identified three areas the charity could help with that would benefit the maximum amount of patients.

  1. To pay for the poorest patients who potentially would be turned away due to lack of ability to pay towards their surgery or a pair of glasses. Including children from birth upwards.
  2. To finance an awareness campaign which would reach the remotest villages.
  3. To pay for more equipment needed due to the rise in volume of the patients attending on a daily basis.

Their ongoing immediate financial needs are:

  • £55 – For every adult cataract operation
  • £85 – For every child cataract surgery
  • £10 – For a pair of glasses for an adult or child
  • £50 – 1,000 leaflets to raise awareness in remote villages
  • £1,000 – For 4 Slit Lamps (for 4 new doctors due to patient volume)
  • £4,000 – Equipment to treat retinal patients

We returned home in November with an increased urgency of all that needed to be done and the money we wanted to raise to achieve those goals.

On behalf of all the trustees we want to thank Hayley for all the wonderful photos she took to help us raise awareness and visually share the need in our marketing, it was an absolute pleasure to share this experience with her.

If you have taken the time to read this article we want to thank you. Please help us raise the profile of this need and encourage others to donate to Vision for Bangladesh. The gift of sight is a precious gift, often taken for granted in the UK.