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Bangladesh – 183,000 under 5s die every year?
Categories: blogging mums

I’m here to understand what lies beneath statistics, but first of all, let me offer you some:

Between 1980 and 2008, the mortality rate for children aged one to four years fell by 61 per cent from 51 deaths per 100,000 population in 1980 in the UK, to 20 deaths per 100,000 population in 2008 (source ONS).  In comparison, the figures for Bangladesh are 68.05 deaths per 1,000 live births (2002 est.) and the annual number of under-5 deaths in 2008 was 183,000.

I’ve been in Barisal, Bangladesh a remote region of the country which is hard to access, it grows rice and has extreme weather conditions including cyclones and floods, and of course, the heat.  We have spent the last three days visiting families in their homes, health centres and hospitals.  Save the Children is our host and its representatives are not afraid to tell it like it is, the people we meet are similarly honest.  I’m here to do the very same for you and tell you about the people.

Put simply, children are dying here in Bangladesh.  Families can’t afford to feed themselves, medicine and hygiene come low on the priority list for when hunger is all around and travel is too expensive so hospitals are out of reach geographically and financially.

The biggest impression on me so far is the ubiquity of pneumonia among the very young.  34% of deaths of children under the age of 5 are from pneumonia.  For a new born, it’s a very cruel start to life that may be cut shockingly short.  I can’t imagine having to face this possibility myself and it’s only being here and meeting women and children that I am taking it all on board.

The Sher-e-Bangla Medical College Hospital in Barisal was teeming with people and the conditions appalling to Western eyes, dirt, disease and death are bedfellows here.  The Intensive Care Unit for Children was heartbreaking. I was determined to see the visit through, and I had the opportunity to speak with the Dr Abdullah al Baki, the doctor in residence who is supported by a small group of interns.

Pneumonia, extreme malnutrition, jaundice and diarrhoea were prevalent and tiny babies housed in incubators and sat under UV lights with bandaged eyes, as fellow blogger Mummytips said – they were not bigger than birdcages, and ironically, they were draped in similarly flowered fabric.

One child we visited was in the grip of advanced stages and of a deadly bout of pneumonia and is probably not alive today.  It’s a crushing defeat for the Doctors and Nurses who do what they can but are often treating children who are way past recovery.  But what about the Mother who is sat on the bed cradling her dying child – possibly for a day or so longer?  And what about the child who is deprived of the basic human right to have access to the most simple of medicine?  While the experience shook us up, we were witness to something bigger than all of us, yet it is so common place here.

Save the Children has many projects across the country which are working to prevent children with illnesses getting into these desperate stages.  Simple cases of diarrhea and colds become fatal if untreated, yet these basic medicines don’t reach 100% of cases because the educated manpower is not available.  This is what we should child neglect on a gross and grand scale, but it’s poverty and its effects in detail.

We left the hospital and I said goodbye to the Mother as she cradled her child.  She could do nothing else other than wait.   As we walked to the hallway I continued to talk with Dr Abdullah al Baki, he told me that this is the norm, and worse than that, the people that come to this hospital are so poor they can not even afford to bring their own water so he buys it for them himself.  I was struck by his gesture, that he would dip into his own pockets to help and it dawned on me that he was carrying a massive burden.  I could see it in his eyes that he was putting everything he could into this hospital but he knew it would never be enough.  He was neither defensive nor ashamed, he was searingly honest and disarmingly so.  As I stood talking to him I could see the place for what it is, it’s the best he can make it, and he is totally committed to doing all he can.  He is underfunded and short staffed, medicine is in short supply and so are staff.

Dr Ayan CMO of Save the Children  told me already on the same ward that day, a child had died that very morning.  The two Doctors are great friends – I’m sure they need moral support from each other to face this relentless struggle.

Bangladesh is a developing country and poverty is as endemic as disease.  Many people live without electricity, running water, televisions and all the paraphernalia associated with 21st century living.  As Anika Rabbani, Save the Children put it ‘Many people in this country live in the old tradition and don’t know how to use a computer even.  They are living in very ancient and traditional ways while others have a modern life, thanks to the disparity and socio-economic division. The remote and hard to access regions are the most difficult for us to reach and we put primary importance on those regions; the problems here are vast.’

As we have travelled around the country, we have seen evidence of change and a handful of success stories, but they are in the minority.

While we have been agog at the scenery and enchanted by the people, the finer detail needs to be considered.

Save the Children is working to improve health of pregnant women and young children by using its league of 1616 health visitors which cover Barisal and Bhola in Bangladesh.  Each volunteer may have between 150 to 200 households under their care and they visit families regularly and over time become part of an extended family.  This helps treat many minor illnesses before they become life threatening diseases which are often fatal.

There are simple programmes which include: GMP; growth monitoring and promotion to help families with young children to prevent malnutrition and stunted growth.  The Expanded Programme of Immunisation to give essential basic protection from polio and TB and Antenatal Care for pregnant women.  This programme is a one stop shop delivered in the community for free and really helps to cement the basic foundations of health, nutrition and hygiene in a sustainable way.

It’s not unique to Bangladesh but our visit has highlighted many of the issues that are faced by children and families globally, and we have quickly become intensely aware of what’s at stake.  The price is too high to ignore.

Please sign up, no money is required, just a few seconds of your time and a couple of clicks:

Please sign Press for Change by helping us reach 100,000 sign ups by 20th September to show Nick Clegg that we really need him to show leadership and help us end the scandal of 9 million child deaths a year. This is where you come in.

All you need to do to sign our petition is give us your thumbprint and your details.  We’ll hand in the petition to Nick Clegg to send him on his way to New York.

It’s the simple things that make a big difference. All we need is enough people do this one simple thing. EVERY ONE can save a child’s life, so take action now and press for change.


Bangladesh, in full People’s Republic of Bangladesh, republic of southern Asia, in the northeastern portion of the Indian subcontinent, bordered on the west, north, and east by India, on the southeast by Burma (Myanmar), and on the south by the Bay of Bengal. The area of the country is 147,570 sq km (56,977 sq mi) The capital and largest city of Bangladesh is Dhaka. Geographically, historically, and culturally, Bangladesh forms the larger and more populous part of Bengal.

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3 Comments to “Bangladesh – 183,000 under 5s die every year?”

  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by nixdminx eva keogan, BDNews Org. BDNews Org said: #bdnews #bangladesh Bangladesh – 183000 under 5s die every year? | Nixdminx: I'm writing in a powercut, the only l… [...]

  2. TheMadHouse says:

    I have already signed. Again no words are enough

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