Two health experts working for women around the globe spoke at Direct Relief’s headquarters on Thursday.
Dr. Ifthikher Mahmood, founder of HOPE Foundation for Women & Children of Bangladesh, and Dr. Steve Arrowsmith, medical director of the Fistula Foundation and consulting medical director for Direct Relief, spoke to staff and a small group of supporters.
The doctors have traveled the world to bring care to the most vulnerable women.
Dr. Mahmood was born in Southern Bangladesh in Cox’s Bazar, and knew from a young age he wanted to help his community.
“Our destiny [as humans] is in our childhood,” the doctor said. “All that we see and do as young children impacts our path through life.”
He wanted a way to give back to those in his community. In 1999, he founded HOPE Foundation for Women and Children of Bangladesh. The foundation operates a 40-bed hospital in Ramu Cox’s Bazar, as well as eight medical centers in rural areas.
Many women in Bangladesh lack access to a skilled birth attendant, and the country’s maternal mortality rate remains high. The hospital allows women a safe place to give birth and also facilitates training of local midwives.
In 2007, a deadly cyclone struck the region, and HOPE staff connected with Direct Relief to coordinate shipments of medical aid.
“HOPE depended on Direct Relief so much it was unbelievable,” said Mahmood.
The hospital’s mission became even more critical when nearly 1 million Rohingya refugees fled from neighboring Myanmar into Southern Bangladesh, just miles away from HOPE’s front doors. The hospital was suddenly confronted with a massive humanitarian crisis, and began to work with patients, one at a time and eventually expanded to providing care in the Rohingya camps.
The hospital provided treatment like fistula repair, during which a surgeon repairs a fistula, or opening, that results from obstructed labor and can have devastating consequences. The hospital has been able to offer the surgery, sometimes to patients who have lived with the condition for decades. “Without Direct Relief supplies, like wound sutures, HOPE couldn’t have done the fistula surgery,” said Mahmood.
Arrowsmith, a surgeon has provided countless surgeries for women with fistula over the past 25 years, also spoke. Arrowsmith started the Fistula Repair Center in Jos, Nigeria, and also conducted surgeries at the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital.
He trains surgeons on how to do the surgeries, and said that he’s depended on Direct Relief surgical supplies for many surgeries.
When asked about identifying where and how to help, Arrowsmith encouraged organizations to continue supporting people on the frontlines of healthcare, like Dr. Mahmood.
“Find people with passion and a heart for what they do, and grab onto those who have that calling,” he said.