My time here in Sittwe, the major town of Rakhine State, where Rohingya Population are not allowed to travel across the state border...Sittwe is the first place I’d ever been to that has a curfew, imposed in response to the civil unrest and violence that rocked the state last year and enforced more now due to the radical movements. The beautiful landscape and bustling asian market mask the deep tensions that divide this part of Myanmar. One needs to have knowledge of the recent history of the area to appreciate the constant threat of violence that hangs over the town. Its impossible not to feel something when walking past numerous piles of rubble marked with red signs to highlight where houses once stood.
A 3 hour boat ride and an hour car journey later took me to Maungdaw. I’ve lost count of modes of public transport used in the last week. But I’m here at last. The expat house is pretty big, but quite delapidated. There are rats. Lots of them. My room is basic. There’s a living room that wouldn’t be out of place in a bacpacker hostel in Thailand, with cable tv and a decent library. Plus the rooftop/ pool terrace with epic view more than make up for any other shortcomings, and makes the 10pm state curfew bearable.
The medical team leader wants me to go to a town called Buthidaung for the week to run the outreach Maternal/Ped clinic. The only doctor there is new, and has only had a couple of weeks of training. I’m to spend the next month or so supervising and training the staff, who are a mixture of local Rohingya and Rakhine staff, and Burmese national staff from other parts of Myanmar (known in MSF as “inpats”). To help me, I’ll have a PA, who is also my multilingual translator.
The clinic currently has a cohort of only 450 patients, but is recruiting 10 new patients a month. As the only free health service available in the area, its also become an ad-hoc primary health care clinic, which I think is in the process of being formalized in the next few months
So far I’ve met and been briefed by the Deputy Head of Mission in Yangon, the Emergency Medical Co-ordinator in Sittwe and the Project Co-ordinator and Medical Team Leader in Maungdaw were in truth, amazing. It is clear that they are all highly passionate about the work MSF do. Its an incredibly tough project for many reasons, and desperately needed by the population it serves. Hopefully I’ll prove this in my future entries.