The Arban Clinic is now running

By Matthew Bullock, Trustee, ARBAN UK

I’ve just returned from a visit to the ARBAN UK funded clinic in Jheelpur slum in Dhaka.

The clinic has been constructed despite lots of problems in the slum. Space in the slum is at such a premium that even though the slum dwellers don’t own the land they are very protective and it has been difficult to get land to build the clinic. It’s down to the hard work of our colleagues at Arban as well as the dedication of some community leaders that we have managed to have a clinic in the slum at all.

Walking through the slum the familiar smells and sounds come back to me. Some residents appear to recognise me but it’s just starting to rain so many are quickly preparing to move inside. I am expecting the clinic to be on the ‘main’ road but actually it’s at the end and up a flight of steps which I am informed by Atiqullah, our new project coordinator, ARBAN UK has funded.

The clinic is built on slightly higher ground and backs on to the edge of the slum.  It’s wet season and aside from the usual pungent smell of rubbish and waste, water from neighbouring apartment blocks and factories is pouring through the wall and down the path that we have constructed to get to the clinic. A few extra taka will provide a pipe to take this water away from the clinic and I ask Atiqullah to arrange it. I don’t think the water is entirely clean.

Dr Misty sits in the clinic and already a large crowd has formed. This is partly due to our presence but partly due to the fact that the clinic only operates 3 days per week and so her services are in demand. The health coordinator, Ibrahim, has a matching desk to Misty and is busy processing various log books and pieces of paper. His job is to register everyone in the queue and records if they are male or female, their name and brief details of their medical condition.

We take our shoes off and enter the small room. All the plastic chairs are taken and so I sit on the medical couch that is at the end of the room, still with its plastic shipping wrapper intact.  A set of scales, a height measure and a first aid box are about the only pieces of equipment I can see apart from Misty’s stethoscope and blood pressure band.

Rahima, one of the community leaders arrives and shakes my hand. She says it is a gift from God, waving her hands at the tin roof and white wash walls. It’s quite basic but she is smiling and I suddenly realise what a difference we are making.

The patients start telling Misty what is wrong with them. None of them appear terribly ill but they all have their blood pressure taken and one or two have their temperature checked and their eyes looked at. One boy, who apparently is 6, has a mild fever and his temperature is checked. Actually this appears to be the least of his problems as I am informed that there was some ‘accident’ at his birth. He is painfully thin, cannot talk and I wonder if he would live very long if mild fevers took hold. Misty is frantically writing her notes on her ARBAN health project pad. She keeps having to move the carbon paper underneath so she has a record too. The notes also contain the prescription which she gives to each patient. Prescription in hand the patients move back to the health coordinator who issues the medication from a store behind his desk, it looks like a plastic vegetable rack, but it works. The patient pays 10 taka (8p) and then sits down again. I realise that the clinic is becoming a social centre as well as a place to see a doctor. I also realise that the stationery budget I’ve been given is probably low, given the number of bits of paper going backward and forward. Kamal, a founder of Arban who has just arrived, explains to me that just the piece of paper is helpful to get treatment at one of the NGO and charity hospitals in Dhaka. Misty leans over and says that many of her diagnoses are incomplete as she really needs blood tests and x-rays. She wonders if we can help?

Misty is seeing people quite rapidly now. She is skilfully assisted by Shirien who is a girl who lives in the slum and is now being employed by the clinic. She moves equipment about, staples pieces of paper together and generally smoothes the process. She reminds me of a dentist’s assistant, knowing what to do without a word being said. Ibrahim is assisted by Sweety, another girl from the slum, who also appears to know exactly what to do for each patient. I realise that, having seen over 600 people since opening, the clinic is operating pretty well. It could do with some more equipment, a sink and an area where private examinations could be done, but it’s a start and I feel very humble that in some part I’ve made this happen.

You can see the photos of my visit here.