Restoring eyesight

Quality service and free surgeries draws patients from far and wide to Friendship floating hospitals

Al Amin travelled 200km to have his mother and grandfather’s cataracts operated at Friendship’s floating hospital. ©Orjan Ellingvag
by Aquibul Islam Tanzil, Naushad Ali Husein
August 10, 2022

Friendship’s second floating hospital, EFH, concluded a surgical camp on July 29, having performed 107 cataract surgeries in two days. 

Friendship started operating floating hospitals in 2002 to bring healthcare to the remote river islands, or chars, of the Brahmaputra, where the shifting nature of the islands made it impossible to build hospitals or operate conventional healthcare services. Basic health conditions such as diarrhoea would lead to preventable deaths in the region. The floating hospitals and their outreach services now give millions of people access to healthcare in the northern chars and adjacent regions. 

However, the surgical camp attracted patients from far beyond the river islands. Al Amin, 24, who was camping in the makeshift waiting rooms near the floating hospitals with his mother and grandfather, said he had travelled 50km from Bakshiganj so that they could get their surgeries. 

EFH programme manager Dr. Asif Ahmed meets patients waiting to be ushered on board the floating hospital. ©Orjan Ellingvag

“I brought them here for the dependable services and the fact that it is free,” said Al Amin. He said he came to know about Friendship hospital ship from people in his area who recommended it after receiving treatment there. 

Among the others camping by the hospital ship was Md. Shamsul Haq, claimed he travelled 72km from Mithapukur, Rangpur for his cataract surgery scheduled for July 28. He had been to EFH before and said that he was drawn by the quality of services and the free procedures and medicines.  

Friendship’s hospitals offer surgeries for common conditions such as burns, cleft lips, club foot and tumours. Cataracts are one of the most common ailments in these areas, and at any moment, thousands of people are waitlisted for the surgery, even though it is a relatively quick and simple procedure compared to, for example, reconstructive surgeries for burns. So far this year, EFH has conducted 12 medical camps. 

Patients often arrive late in the evening, and wait for the hospital to open the next morning. ©Orjan Ellingvag

“Had the char people not had the opportunity to get surgeries at EFH,” said Programme Manager at EFH, Dr. Asif Ahmed, “they would have had to go to Rangpur Medical College or another distant facility to get operated.” Even though the procedure at the government facility is free of cost, people are deterred by the transport cost, as well associated costs such as medicines and dark glasses. 

“Given the economic condition of many char families, these costs are prohibitive. As a result, people choose instead to continue to suffer with their conditions rather than get treatment.” 

Besides conducting hundreds of surgeries during specialised camps conducted by visiting doctors, Friendship’s hospitals provide a range of services, including child and maternal healthcare, gynaecological and obstetric care, dental and eye care, cervical and breast cancer screening, emergency services, physiotherapy, laboratory and imaging services, and referrals to specialist facilities. 

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