South Africa’s nurse working with Rohingya refugees


Zodidi Mhlana

JOHANNESBURG- A South Africa humanitarian nurse who has been providing healthcare to Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh is set to return to the country today.

Doctors Without Borders (MSF) senior intensive care unit nurse, Anna Cilliers said that the humanitarian crisis unfolding in camps for Rohingya refugees was horrendous.  “Some of the stories that we have heard from refugees are horrific and traumatic. They have told us about the horrific sexual abuse they have suffered while fleeing their country. They carry so much emotional trauma,” she said.

Cilliers is set to leave South Africa for Bangladesh on Tuesday this week.

“I’m expected to be work in Bangladesh for three months. My first time in Bangladesh was in February and MSF has healthcare centres that take care of the needs of all refugees. We have a recently built hospital that deals with the outbreak of disease,” she said.

Cilliers said that some of the infectious diseases that are widespread in the camps include diphtheria.

“Diphtheria is not a disease that is well known, but in Myanmar vaccination is not available. Some of the patients we have treated including children,” she said.

Cilliers, who joined MSF nearly five years ago said that she is passionate about healthcare.

“When I signed up with MSF, I knew that I would be good at providing humanitarian healthcare. We also have a maternity unit for women and also water and sanitation services to ensure that there is no outbreak of diseases,” she said.

She was also part of the team that was deployed to deal with ebola epidemic in Sierra Leone and spent nine months working in a refugee camp in South Sudan.

“The biggest challenge about working in such conditions is that you should always be prepared for anything that can happen including the outbreak of disease and things like mudslides. You need be prepared for such events.”

“For me, the saddest place to work at was South Sudan because of the worst health infrastructure. We could not treat some of the patients because of the injuries we could not treat,” she said.

It is estimated that there are over 905000 Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazar district in South- Eastern Bangladesh who have fled increasing violence in Myanmar.

Rohingya refugees have been fleeing Myanmar since August last year after the country’s forces raided and set alight villages belonging to the Rohingya people. Since the violence occurred, some Rohingya women and children have been raped.

It is believed that the latest violence outbreak began when Rohingya insurgents attacked army and police posts.