It was 2015. Farah Naz Hossain was then working for Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) or Doctors Without Borders at Afghanistan’s capital Kabul and northern Kunduz city.
She had returned after finishing her work at MSF Hospital in Kunduz on 2 October. At midnight, she got a sudden call from her superior official. She learnt that gunfight was going on in front of the hospital. 40 people were crammed inside a single room.
The hospital in Kunduz was demolished in air attack. Later, she got news that 42 people including 28 patients and 14 of her colleagues have died there. That unsettling memory is still etched on her mind.
She remarked, “I was hurting a lot after learning the news. One of my colleagues who had stayed in Kunduz to meet the family, died. Many of the patients I had treated, also died. A surgeon, who had been doing emergency operations, lost one of his legs to bomb explosion.”
Farah Naz had never imagined that a hospital, a place of safety and peace would ever be attacked. That 92-bed hospital named Kunduz Trauma Centre was razed to ground in just one night.
Memory of Sudan
Farah Naz spent three years working in Afghanistan since 2012. From there she moved to another conflictive area, South Sudan in 2016 and stayed there till 2018. One day gunfight started in front of their hospital. 40 people including her took shelter in a room. They were freed after 24 long hours.
However, another memory from Sudan fills her heart with joy. Farah Naz used to work for the poor at remote Pibor area. There was a regular medical centre of MSF there.
On a midnight, a pregnant woman was brought there by her relatives. The condition of her unborn child was such that it was not possible to save that mother and child without surgery. But, there were no operation theatre in that medical centre.
She couldn’t think of what to do. At one point she started the operation, disinfecting whatever medical equipment she had with her. And the mother as well as the child survived.
Challenges are many
Farah Naz moved to Iraq in 2018. She felt very helpless during one of the incidents there. Sharing the incident she said, “At MSF’s trauma centre in Mosul, I had treated a youth who sustained heavy injury in a bomb blast. He needed extensive treatment. But we could not keep him in the hospital. He informed us that he drove a taxi and there were no one else in his family to earn. So, it was impossible for him to stay at the hospital month after month.”
Farha says, sometimes providing proper services alone turns into a challenge as their workplaces are located in remote areas. The places she used to travel in South Sudan did not have any airports. ‘Air strips’ used to be created like runways on a little bit of land. Sometimes, those air strips used to be immersed in muddy water. The airplane used to get stuck inside the blackish clay. They had to survive on little much food and work there week after week. Even it was hard to transport medicine to some places.
Bangladesh is leading
Farah Naz had been working with MSF since 2010. At present her work region includes Bangladesh, Pakistan, Philippines and Papua New Guinea. MSF has initiatives in 88 countries.
MSF has ten medical centres in Bangladesh; eight in Cox’s Bazar and two in Dhaka’s Kamrangirchar. From her experience of working in Afghanistan, Pakistan and India, she said the participation in community-based services in maternal and child health in Bangladesh is stronger than that of other countries. Here, even a rural mother takes her children to get vaccinated. And, everybody knows about oral saline.
Farah Naz is the elder of Motahar Hossain and Hazera Hossain's two children. She was born and brought up in Dhaka. She wished to become an architect but became a physician on her parents’ insistence. She completed her MBBS degree from Bangladesh Medical College in 2003.
While in her second year, she read in an article of MSF, how physicians work in a conflictive area taking various risks and challenges. She got inspired to become a doctor reading that article. She took her first job as a physician for street and slum children at a non-government organisation named ‘Aparajeyo-Bangladesh’. Her first job abroad was in Tanzania in 2008.
She said, “My father and mother were furious with me when they heard that I’ll be working in war-ravaged and conflictive areas.” Farah Naz’s husband Amirul Islam works at a private financial institute in Dhaka. Farah has always been supported by him in working at risky situations.
When asked why is she working under such risk, Farah simply said, “I find peace in serving people who are fighting with adversities.”
* This report appeared in the print and online edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten for the English edition by Nourin Ahmed Monisha