Floating Hospitals Bring Healthcare To Patients Cut Off By Climate Change

Brilliance | Dec. 11, 2017

In Bangladesh, rising sea levels and increasingly frequent floods make it nearly impossible for new buildings to be constructed—including government-funded hospitals. That's why some nonprofits have begun transforming boats into fully functioning medical facilities featuring operating suites, x-ray machines, gynecological units, and dental and ophthalmological rooms.

Disappearing Geography

To understand why there is such a vital need for these mobile hospitals, you first need to understand the geography of Bangladesh. Dominated by massive rivers—some stretching more than 18 miles from bank to bank—the low-lying country is about the size of Iowa but has a population about half that of the United States. Many of its people live on river islands known as chars, which are temporary buildups of fertile silt that make extremely good farmland, but dissolve into the water after a few years. On top of that, the changing climate has created more frequent floods that leave even the more-stable land on the banks of the rivers at risk of going under.

For obvious reasons, nobody wants to build an expensive hospital on ground that's destined to disappear. By putting the hospital on a boat, like nonprofits Friendship and Impact Foundation do, doctors can get around the land issue and get the added benefit of mobility up and down the country's three major rivers.

Health Care Where It's Needed

Resident Medical Officer Saifuddin Akhtar of Friendship's Emirates Hospital says that his floating hospital chooses the islands it visits by their population (ideally over 3,000) and how easy it is for residents of other chars to get there. "We meet with local stakeholders and local leaders, and we just announce that our ship will come within these days. Usually in a year we choose six places to move." Once they're there, they bring the primary and secondary services that the areas desperately need, from basic pediatric care to cataract surgeries, cancer screenings, and treatments for conditions such as cleft lip, club foot, and hearing loss.

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