Cox’s Bazar project defies odds and continues to grow despite fires, violence and cyclones

A Qatar Charity funded project in South-East Bangladesh, implemented by Orbis, has continued to expand, and treat more people with vision loss, despite difficult working conditions within the world’s largest refugee camp.

The project, which supports both the Rohingya population and local Bangladeshi community, faced many setbacks in 2023, including a large fire, cyclone, and increasing security risks due to violence within the camps.

In spite of these difficulties, our local partners have worked hard to find ways to continue to reach those in need of treatment and surgery for sight loss, growing the programme by 26% since the beginning of 2023.

In March, a large fire broke out in camp 11, where the Orbis supported vision centre is located. The damage affected 16,000 people, destroying shelters, and resulted in those affected being displaced. The Vision Centre staff were unharmed and the building untouched, therefore services were able to swiftly resume for the community. However, many people who were awaiting surgery or glasses had been relocated, making them hard to find. Our team worked with our local partners worked with camp authorities to track down patients to provide them with their promised treatments.

Security risks within the camp have continued to grow, due to increasing tensions between rival groups. Restrictions on movement have been implemented by the government, including on public transport, which patients use to reach the Vision Centre in the camp, and the secondary eye care centre outside the camp. The team adapted to provide home screenings, delivering eye care directly to those who needed it.

The challenges of 2023 persisted for the Rohingya refugees and local community. In October, a devastating cyclone hit Cox’s Bazar, affecting 450,000 people in the region. Bangladesh experiences two cyclone seasons a year. With each seasons comes flooding and destruction. We worked with our partners to adjust to each situation, maintaining accessibility to sight saving services.

Many of the Rohingya community had never had access to health care before their arrival in Bangladesh. Alongside the local population, knowledge of eye health is not far reaching, therefore the project also focuses on the training of community leaders and frontline health workers to find those with sight loss and direct them to services. To date, 214 have received this vital training.

Since Qatar Charity’s funding of the project began in April 2022, over 126,000 vision screenings have been conducted, almost 8,400 glasses prescribed to adults and children and over 2,600 surgeries carried out for conditions such as cataracts.

Rebecca Cronin, CEO, Orbis UK commented: “2023 proved to be a very hard year for the Rohingya refugees and the local Bangladeshi community who, if life wasn’t tough enough already, have had to contend with fires, security risks and extreme weather events. These situations are stressful but imagine experiencing a cyclone with poor eyesight?

“Through the Qatar Charity funded project, we’re able to provide access to eye health, supporting patients to get the surgery they need, or the glasses they require, to better equip them for the challenges they face. Untreated vision loss should not be another obstacle that individuals in these communities have to navigate. Thanks to Qatar Charity, we are doing something about it.”

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