For Walter Nasarek, it will be his second time to Bangladesh on medical duties but the sheer scale of providing palliative care to community health field workers in the world's largest refugee settlement isn't lost on him.

The staff member at North Haven Hospice in Whangārei, together with palliative medicine specialist Dr Kees Lodder, flew out on Sunday for two and a half weeks to help other health professionals at the refugee camp in Cox's Bazar, southeast Bangladesh.

The camps are spread over more than 14sq km and house more than 1 million Rohingya refugees displaced from Burma.

Both will volunteer their time training those working for agencies such as Red Cross and Doctors Without Borders, and educate them on palliative care pathways for helping the sick.


Nasarek, originally from Germany, did leprosy work with his wife for seven years in Bangladesh in the 1970s, and said his heart still bled for people in the impoverished country.

"I was really taken by it all when I read about them needing palliative care specialists. There's still a lot of emotional suffering and the conditions in the camp are pretty basic."

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He read in an ehospice publication about PalCHASE, the Palliative Care in Humanitarian Aid Situations and Emergencies network, calling for volunteers to spend two weeks helping train community health field-workers in the refugee camps.

He and Lodder will be joined by a doctor from Portugal and a counsellor from Zimbabwe before four palliative care specialists arrive in January.

"In humanitarian crisis situations, the focus goes on managing acute illnesses and vaccination programmes to stop epidemics, etc. Unfortunately, the forgotten are people with chronic illnesses and terminal illnesses who need palliative care, as well as the elderly and disabled," Nasarek said.

Towards the end of their trip, both have been invited to visit the University of Dhaka and will give two days of palliative care training to nurses, doctors and medical students, many of who will go on to work with people living in slums around the capital city.

Lodder has more than 20 years experience in palliative care said it was his passion to give back to communities that most needed his expertise.


Two years ago, he was involved in setting up palliative care services in Vanuatu and said there were many people at the refugee camp in Bangladesh with lung, heart, kidney and other conditions that needed specialist care.

"The biggest challenge is the political willingness of the world to put pressure on the Myanmar government to create a safe return and a tolerance for the Rhongya people," he said.

In 2017, Whangārei nurse and midwife Donna Collins worked in Cox's Bazar for four weeks with Red Cross.