Our vision for having a larger global impact in a post-COVID world
In 2020, Humanity Auxilium was faced with many challenges of providing humanitarian aid in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. In the last year, we’ve been able to launch seven important and beneficial projects, which have helped tens of thousands of refugees, displaced people, and marginalized communities around the world. We have been working hard to spread our mission and goal to provide impactful medical relief and training to benefit marginalized communities around the world. Currently, we have several projects running in Rohingya refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh along with other relief support to those in need in Turkey, Yemen, Pakistan, and elsewhere.
In the last year, we’ve seen Humanity Auxilium grow exponentially, with the help of volunteers. We’ve been able to accomplish so much through the support and kindness of others. In the last few months, we’ve been able to launch several new projects addressing the specific needs of refugees, including our COVID-19 Outreach Project which has provided medical assessments to tens of thousands of Rohingya who were reluctant to seek medical attention during the pandemic. I am so amazed and excited to share what we’ve been able to accomplish since the beginning of last year to today.
Protecting vulnerable refugees during a global pandemic
Rohingya households have been visited by Outreach Teams during the pandemic
For Calgary’s Dr. Fozia Alvi, founder of the non-profit group Humanity Auxilium, the COVID-19 pandemic challenged everything she thought about helping others around the world.
A family physician, Alvi has traveled to Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh since 2017, providing health assessments and treatment to thousands of ill and malnourished people surviving in squalid conditions. Alvi and several medical colleagues had been planning another mission to the camps in March 2020, however, COVID-19 not only brought that plan to a grinding halt but further jeopardized the already precarious health of the refugees.
“I felt terrible and thought to myself that I still had to do something. I'm not going to sit here and watch their demise quietly,” Alvi says.
Although limited in what she could do, Alvi knew she had to help. She also knew her friends, family, volunteers and local partners in Bangladesh would support her every step of the way.
Supporting refugees in a new way
Just months later, in June, the World Health Organization (WHO) confirmed about 2,500 COVID-19 infections in the Bangladeshi municipality of Cox’s Bazar, where the world’s largest refugee camp — sheltering nearly 900,000 Rohingya who fled violence and persecution in neighboring Myanmar — were located. Another 50 refugees tested positive in other Rohingya camps. Alvi and Humanity Auxilium’s local partners knew that, since there was little COVID-19 testing, the number was likely much higher.
At first, Alvi and Humanity Auxilium’s medical chair, Dr. Mohsina Chaklader, explored the idea of building an isolation centre. But it quickly became clear that this project wouldn’t be as effective. The Rohingya, one of the most persecuted minorities in the world, feared further oppression if diagnosed as infected by COVID-19. As a result, few came forward for testing when they had symptoms.
“Since the Rohingya have been persecuted for generations, there is stigma and fear among the community, hence, the symptomatic patients were not forthcoming due to the fear of being separated from their families and community,” Chaklader says.
Humanity Auxilium worked closely with Bora Tümer, head of the Turkish Red Crescent delegation in Bangladesh, one of the few NGOs still on the ground in Rohingya camps providing humanitarian aid to the refugees.
Tümer realized reluctant refugees would have to be visited in the privacy of their shelters and provided with support, such as medical supplies and education about the virus, informing them of the need to isolate if they had COVID-19 symptoms.
Rohingya were “staying at home and not coming forward to seek medical care at facilities due to the numerous stigma around COVID-19,” says Tümer. “Similarly, people in the community are avoiding tests because of the fear of being isolated.”
Alvi and Chaklader developed training modules to be shared virtually with outreach teams on the ground. The teams would play a pivotal role in protecting refugees during the spread of COVID-19, identifying possible positive patients, and educating the Rohingya community in their own language about how to mitigate the virus’s spread.
The refugees not only received a visit by outreach teams but had numerous checkups. The follow-up, under the supervision of medical staff — a crucially important reason why the project is effective — eliminated the need to visit formal health facilities. Nearly 10,000 patients have received follow-up care by outreach teams to date. More than 1,000 awareness sessions had been undertaken in the camps.
“Our COVID-19 Outreach Teams in Rohingya refugee camps have been working hard on the ground the past few months to mitigate the spread of the virus and to offer support to those who are sick and struggling. I am so proud of Humanity Auxilium and Turkish Red Crescent for their dedication,” says Alvi.
Rebuilding trust in the Rohingya camps
This approach helped rebuild trust between the Rohingya and the medical community.
“We're reminded of the ever-changing nature of the healthcare system in these camps. We have recognized the importance of providing safe and effective medical care, screening, and the positive effects of education and reliability for building trust,” says Alvi.
As of April 30, teams visited over 59,960 structures and homes and so far, over 26,000 people — all likely COVID-19 infected, as teams are only treating patients with symptoms — have benefitted from the project.
“Our project’s medical staff stood by the side of these frightened people through medical relief and kept them safe with a unique follow-up system,” says Tümer.
Chaklader adds that “the frontline local healthcare workers and the Rohingya families were very appreciative of our efforts as they felt that they were not forgotten in the midst of a pandemic.”
Rohingya REFUGEES have RECEIVED MEDICAL ASSESSMENTS BY OUR Outreach Teams during the pandemic
Providing relief to those who weren’t seeking it
One patient was Abul Hossain, 73, who has been living in Camp 17 for the past three years with several physical disabilities. He has a 68-year-old wife, a widowed daughter, and a grandson living with him as well.
“Even though we have many health care facilities here, we stopped going to health facilities after COVID-19... because we became afraid," Hossain says.
Hossain has a chronic cough, breathlessness and general weakness suffers from gastritis and heartburn when eating meals, and has difficulty falling asleep. His wife also has long-term cough and headache, difficulty sleeping, and headache, and neck pain.
Humanity Auxilium’s community-based surveillance and primary medical care team were able to reach Hossain while he was cooped up at home. When the teams first reached out, Hossain has a cough — a symptom of COVID-19. The community surveillance volunteers, along with medical staff, took him to the project coordination medical center, which is managed by the Turkish Red Crescent.
“When we were afraid of COVID-19, they visited from shelter to shelter to check us and informed us that we can go to the nearby Turkish Red Crescent health care center. We got medical care from there and got relieved from the disease,” Hossain says.
Although the COVID-19 Outreach Project has been successful in reaching needy refugees, ongoing medical care is still needed as the situation is constantly changing.
“Alarmingly, the situation of COVID-19 in Bangladesh has been deteriorating over the last few weeks,” says Tümer on Apr. 20, 2021. “The number of confirmed cases reached 23.36 per 100 tests in Bangladesh [and has] crossed the documented death toll of 100 for the first time — the upward trend has continued in the country since then. The positivity rate in Rohingya camps also suddenly increased from 1.3 per cent to 2.3 per cent in the last week. In addition, four of our colleagues working at the health facilities tested positive last week.”
Rohingya BABIES ARE BORN IN REFUGEE CAMPS EVERY YEAR.
Supporting refugee women during a global pandemic
The pandemic has added to worsening conditions in the camps in other ways.
Alvi and her team are concerned about the impact on refugee women, many of whom are pregnant — and are afraid to seek medical attention or go to a birthing facility. Many Rohingya women are also victims of displacement, violence, trauma and, at times, rape. There is a growing concern about these women being stuck in their shelters with their abusers. More than 26,000 Rohingya babies are born every year in refugee camps and informal settlements in Cox’s Bazar.
One pregnant woman is Rehena Begum, 28, who lives in a small shelter in Camp 17 with four children and a husband. She became pregnant after positive cases of COVID-19 were first identified in the refugee camps. Like other pregnant women, Begum avoided health centres in case she ended up in an isolation facility.
“I became pregnant after the coronavirus arrived, but I could not go out of home because of fear,” Begum says. Even after becoming sick while pregnant, she did not seek medical care because of the stigma. “I was suffering from a cough, fever and headache, yet I did not go to any health facility,” Begum says.
The outreach teams from Humanity Auxilium's community-based surveillance and primary medical care project reached out to Begum. After checking her, they brought her to the project coordination health facility, where she was treated and given medication. Staff also encouraged her to have a hospital delivery.
Clearly, expectant mothers needed additional help, so Humanity Auxilium launched another project, mobilizing teams to inform refugees of their rights and options, such as birth control, along with nutritional and mental health support.
Rohingya REFUGEES RECEIVED MEDICAL ATTENTION FROM OUR OUTREACH TEAMS ON THE GROUND FOLLOWING THE MASSIVE FIRE.
Alleviate further suffering: Stepping up when things get worse
Tragically, there was also a massive fire this March in the Cox’s Bazar camp, displacing at least 45,000 people and killing more than a dozen. Humanity Auxilium is responding to the massive fire in Cox’s Bazar, by mobilizing to disperse funds, distribute food, and provide medical attention to those injured in the blaze. Approximately 10,000 shelters were partially or fully damaged and one local field hospital was burned to ashes.
“We are standing in solidarity with Rohingya in this difficult time. Those people have suffered losses already, mass rape, razing of their homes, killings, forced displacement. They've lost everything in the past and now these temporary shelters are gone as well,” says Alvi, adding that Humanity Auxilium saw a spike in donations following the disaster.
Our hearts broke when we heard this news. These refugees have been so much since fleeing Myanmar in 2017 and not only have to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic but now thousands are being further displaced after losing their homes and personal belongings. At Humanity Auxilium, we knew we had to step up and support these refugees in any way we could. We quickly dispersed funds to our local partners and they immediately went to work supporting those who had been affected by this tragic event.
In the first 48 hours, our teams provided medical support to 2,878 Rohingya. They also were able to provide supplies to those who were displaced and in need; teams gave cooked meals to 2,170 refugees and distributed 600 hygiene kits, 600 dress packs, and 200 floor mats.
After 10 days following the fire, our teams had given medical support to 22,342 refugees who needed attention — many with burn injuries or injuries from trying to escape the fires. Mobile teams were able to support 18,629 Rohingya while a nearby health post supported an additional 3,713 people. Teams also provided cooked meals to 34,465 hungry Rohingya and distributed 2,000 hygiene kits, 2,000 dress packs, 2,000 floor mats, and 21,070 medical support kits. An additional 62,301 hot meal packs were also given to displaced and affected refugees.
This tragic event tested how quickly we were able to respond to a fast and ever-changing situation that we weren’t prepared for. But, through our generous donors, we were able to support so many people who immediately needed help. We are so grateful to our partners on the ground who quickly mobilized and effectively helped tens of thousands who were desperately in need.
“So many physicians whom I didn't know personally reached out to me and offered their support. It means a lot to me,” Alvi says.
Rohingya REFUGEES RECEIVED cooked meals within 10 days of a massive fire
A post-COVID world: Making the world a better place
Although Humanity Auxilium has supported many people in the past year, there is still much work to be done.
“Humanity Auxilium is trying to provide medical relief, but all of these measures are just an effort to keep them alive and putting a Band-Aid on their wounds,” Alvi says.
Alvi envisions Humanity Auxilium taking a more global approach to help alleviate suffering and bring health care to those living in marginalized communities around the world. She hopes to add more volunteers and raise more money, leading to a bigger global impact.
Such involvement lets “victims know someone cares, and that they are not forgotten. In the best-case scenario, you’ll have played a small role in mitigating a genocide, and in the worst case, you’ll have fulfilled a commitment to your fellow human beings. After all, as physicians, we are guided by the principle that each human life is precious and equal — even the ones far away from home,” says Alvi.
CONTINUING OUR IMPACT
PROVIDING RELIEF AND INCREASING ACCESS TO HEALTHCARE
As you can see, Humanity Auxilium has been successful in implementing projects around the world to serve the specific needs of marginalized communities. It’s been overwhelming, but gratifying to see our organization grow so much in the last year. At times, it’s been difficult to think about all of the people who are in need that we cannot help, but we strongly believe that we must do everything in our power to change the world one person, one step, and one action at a time. We envision a world with health care equalities for the world’s most marginalized people and that’s exactly what we are working towards each and every day.
With your help and support, we want to continue our work and expand our reach in order to achieve a much larger global impact. We hope you will join us during this important time of our growth as we strive to make the world a better place for all. Our hope is that in a post-COVID world, we can all come together and find solutions through our shared HUMANITY.
Please learn more about how we are making an impact in other ways:
The pandemic has added to worsening conditions in Rohingya camps in other ways and has brought other needs to our attention. At Humanity Auxilium, we became concerned about the impact on refugee women, many of whom are pregnant — and are afraid to seek medical attention or go to a birthing facility. Many Rohingya women are also victims of displacement, violence, trauma and, at times, rape. There was a growing concern about these women being stuck in their shelters with their abusers. More than 26,000 Rohingya babies are born every year in refugee camps and informal settlements in Cox’s Bazar.
It became clear that expectant mothers needed additional help, so Humanity Auxilium launched another project, mobilizing teams to inform refugees of their rights and options, such as birth control, along with nutritional and mental health support. This program aims to support a significant number of expecting Rohingya mothers to visit health care facilities before and after giving birth. As well, our partners and teams in the camps will mobilize to inform refugees of their rights and options, including their right to avoid or delay pregnancy, along with providing nutritional and crucial mental health support during this process.
Our hope is to support a few hundred refugee women over the next few months and then expand this project over time. It has been a goal of Humanity Auxilium to support the specific health needs of refugee women and girls for some time now. Our hope is that through additional support and funding, we can increase the reach and impact of this project.
HATCH (Humanity Auxilium Teaching Centre of Health)
This project is very close to our heart as we hold a lot of weight in both health and education. Initially, this project was initially intended only for orphan’s health, but when we did our needs assessment, we found out that our local partner’s (READ Foundation) schools — where we are going to implement this project — are mostly in remote rule areas in Pakistan, where all children do not have the opportunity to receive medical check-ups and care.
That’s why we decided to do it for all children to increase the access to healthcare for those in remote areas, where healthcare is limited. Our latest initiative, Humanity Auxilium Teaching Centre of Health (HATCH) is designed to support the health needs of students and orphans in several ways. Through volunteers, we are creating training modules for teachers to help them identify and assess medical needs, including how to perform first aid. As well, this project will build and supply a sick room in schools, along with staffing them with medical professionals and volunteers to provide medical assessments to students — as many of them have never received a proper health checkup in their lifetime.
Our first HATCH is going to be in Kashmir, Pakistan. We are envisioning this initiative to be replicated in different countries. We are investing in children’s health — this will have a huge impact on creating a more healthy and balanced society in the future. We strongly believe that investing in the health of students will lead to a healthier and stronger future.
Right now, there are 40,000 Uyghurs living in Turkey in exile. Most of them are young children and women as many Uyghur men went back to China to sell their properties or resign from their jobs; now, they are either in concentration camps or have been killed — unfortunately, we don’t know.
During the last two Ramadans, Humanity Auxilium has provided nutritional food baskets to 450 families with the help of our local partners. We also started distributing hygiene kits and nutritional food baskets with the aim to target 635 Uyghurs families. But, our local partner has faced some challenges. We don’t know all of the details of these challenges right now, but hopefully, we can finish the project soon. These efforts are ongoing, but with so many people living in exile, there is a major need to support these people.
In Yemen, 29 million people are dying due to hunger right in front of our eyes. Yemen has been grappling with a major famine for a few years now. A majority of those in Yemen do not know where their next meal will come from. Humanity Auxilium is doing what we can within our capacity to stand in solidarity with people of Yemen.
Humanity Auxilium has distributed food rations to 230 families last Ramadan and we are working with our partners this year and will send funds in the near future. There is still so much work left to be done to support those starving in Yemen as we’ve barely scratched the surface. Our hope is to continue implementing more projects in the future, which will further support those in Yemen and possible help deal with the issue of food insecurity.