Saving lives on a remote island in Bangladesh

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Jannat with baby Turag at Kutubdia Upazila Health Complex in Bangladesh.
Jannat with baby Turag at the Kutubdia Upazila Health Complex, which acts as a beacon of primary healthcare on this remote island. Photo: UNICEF Bangladesh / Shafiqul Alam Kiron

At the bottom of the Bangladesh map, just below Chattogram, you may have noticed a small sliver of land in the Bay of Bengal - Kutubdia island. Kutubdia is an Upazila (sub-district) in Cox’s Bazar district of Bangladesh with a population slightly over 125,000 and is considered as one of the most isolated islands in the district.

Until recently, the national electricity grid did not reach this secluded island and proper health services were so limited that residents had to travel to the mainland for treatment for major illnesses and surgery. As part of the World Bank-financed Health and Gender Support Project for Cox’s Bazar district (HGSP), the Kutubdia Upazila Health Complex (UzHC) has been transformed by UNICEF Bangladesh into a groundbreaking facility saving countless lives and reforming the way medical emergencies are handled.

The 31-bed hospital is now the island’s only source of primary and secondary healthcare services. The operating theater in the UzHC, which was previously used as a storage room, was fully renovated and has been operational since November 2022.

Tuhibul Jannat visited the hospital on January 1, 2023, when she was nine months pregnant and felt that her baby had stopped moving. The gynecologist on duty immediately conducted an ultrasonogram and discovered that the baby was not receiving enough oxygen and was in fetal distress. Time was of the essence to deliver the baby, so the doctors immediately started setting up the operating theater. At first, Jannat was nervous about the procedure due to a lack of knowledge. However, the doctors and other staff assured her, giving her the confidence to proceed with the lifesaving Cesarean section. This would be the first surgery ever to take place in Kutubdia and a big moment for Dr. Golam Mostafa Nadim - the Upazila Health and Family Planning Officer in charge of the health complex.

The operation was successful, and baby Turag was born—the first Cesarean section birth on the island. Mother and baby were discharged in full health. Since then, Jannat has visited the health complex for post-natal care and family planning services.

As primary healthcare reaches the lonely island Kutubdia, Turag and other babies are flourishing – key elements for building human capital across the entire district.

Jannat and baby Turag’s story shows the impact HGSP has had on islands such as Kutubdia, by removing barriers to high-quality and cost-effective care.  As primary healthcare reaches the lonely island Kutubdia, Turag and other babies are flourishing – key elements for building human capital across the entire district.

Authors

Bushra Binte Alam

Senior Health Specialist

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