Shamsuddin Illius, Urirchar, Sandwip
Media: The Independent
Around 30,000 inhabitants of the alienated island of Urirchar along the border between Chittagong and Noakhali districts have to go without primary healthcare as the sole family welfare centre (FWC) there has been occupied by police since 2006.
The FWC now serves as an outpost of Sandwip police station. Police said they never saw any doctor, medical assistant or other staff visiting the centre since they set up the camp there.
“We’ve been using the FWC as an outpost for many years as it was lying disused,” a policeman posted there said.
Sandwip police station officer-in-charge Bijon Kumar Barua told The Independent: “Our men are stationed there temporarily as the FWC was lying empty. We wrote to the home ministry on December 12 last year to allocate 165 acres of land in Bangla Bazaar area for building a permanent outpost.”
Meanwhile, the island’s inhabitants complained that no doctor or healthcare employees have visited the FWC for years now. With no other private or government healthcare centre on the island, the inhabitants have to travel for five to six hours on the river to seek basic treatment in Chittagong or Noakhali.
Moreover, the journey depends on the tides in the river and it can be made only once a day, locals said, adding that the situation worsens during the rainy season.
Expectant mothers are the most affected, with several dying of labour pain, while being transported across the river on way to a hospital. The inhabitants said Sheda Begum (19), wife of Md Zaved, and 1Nazma Begum (20), wife of Osman Gani, were two such recent victims.
Union parishad member Md Manik said, “We’re deprived of the basic human right to healthcare. There are not such facilities for the people of the island and we’re left to our fate.”
Echoing this, UP Awami League (AL) president Jahangir Alam said, “The only FWC for the 30,000 habitants of the island is not functioning. No doctor comes here. No one cares for our heath.”
Sources in the family planning and health department said that five posts—an MBBS doctor, one SSCMO, one visitor, one nanny and one MLSS—were created for imparting healthcare at the FWC. But all the posts have been lying vacant, they added.
When contacted, Chittagong’s civil surgeon, Dr Azizur Rahman Siddique, admitted: “At present, there is no health service at the FWC. Since it’s an alienated island, no one wants to go there. We’ll write to the higher authorities about this.”
Siddique said that the government had appointed an MBBS doctor, Zahid Sarwar, for the FWC in 2014. “But he didn’t visit the FWC regularly and eventually managed to get a transfer in 2015,” he added.
The Urirchar FWC was built in 2002. Initially for five to six months, doctors used to visit it intermittently. But all that stopped from 2003 onwards, the inhabitants complained.
Sandwip upazila family planning officer Dr Abul Kalam Azad said they could not run the FWC due to manpower shortage and also for the place being alienated. “These people are really neglected and they are being deprived of the basic human right to healthcare,” he added. He admitted that people were dying without treatment on the island.