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Bangladesh: still an urgent need

Shelly hasn’t been able to breastfeed her two-month-old son Priton for the last month and quiet desperation is clearly visible in her eyes.

She feels her next best option is to feed him powdered milk, which is having a devastating effect on Priton’s growth and health.

I had already met a heavily pregnant Shelly in June when visiting the site where Save the Children’s Build it for Babies Appeal plan to build the first of seven health clinics.

The clinics will provide family planning services, healthcare for mothers and newborns, and basic, general healthcare to remote communities in Habiganj, Bangladesh.

At that time Shelly was glowing and full of hope for the future and for her unborn baby.

Out of reach

Now Shelly sits on the same bed I spoke to her before, this time with worry lines etched on her face and Priton sleeping next to her. His breathing is very shallow and he’s still the size of a newborn baby.

Shelly can’t afford to go and see the doctor about her breastfeeding problem.

Her family already paid more than an entire months income in July for Shelly to go to hospital to deliver Priton and they can’t afford another trip.

The hospital is two hours away using local transport over very bad roads and although the services were free, transport and accommodation bills for her stay cost her family 5,000 Bangladeshi taka – they usually only earn 3,000 to 4,000 per month.

A desperate situation

Desperate situations like this are so common in Shelly’s community, and many of the communities in Habiganj district where Shelly lives, that no one seems particularly worried.

As one of the community volunteers said to me when I told her about Shelly’s story, “She is actually lucky, at least she got to a hospital and was able to deliver the baby safely and he is still alive. Many women here are not so fortunate.”

A chilling statement demonstrating just how desperate things are for women and newborn babies in the area.

By building a health clinic within easy access of Shelly’s community and six other areas, Save the Children hopes to reduce the kind of healthcare dilemmas women like her face in north-east Bangladesh.


Red boundary markers showing the ouline of where the first health clinic will be built with funds from the Build it for Babies Appeal in Habiganj, near Shelly’s home

Construction of the Save the Children-funded health clinic starts next month and I plan to go back to document the start of the build and revisit Shelly and Priton.

I hope when I see them next the situation has improved for this mother and baby but to be honest I’m not sure how.

Babies should be fed almost exclusively with breast milk for the first six months of their life and the powdered milk Priton has doesn’t contain enough of the nutrients he needs to develop properly.

He’s at serious risk of malnutrition and this could mean his brain and body won’t develop as they should.

It’s been shown that babies in developing countries who aren’t breastfed are significantly more likely to die.

As Priton’s family can’t afford any more trips to the hospital, Priton’s life is held in the balance.

Save the Children is doing all it can to build clinics as soon as possible and ensure that future mothers have better chances of their children growing up healthy and happy.

Photo credit: Abir Abdullah

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