Sailing to save lives

Impact Foundation’s floating hospital supporting rural healthcare for two decades
Impact Foundation’s floating hospital “Jibon Tari” has been providing healthcare services to the disadvantaged population living in remote riverine areas since 1999. Photo: Courtesy

While healthcare is quite accessible for city residents, people living in rural areas are far less fortunate. This is where "Jibon Tari", a floating hospital aptly named according to the service it provides, creates an impact. The hospital has been sailing through the major rivers of the country, making healthcare accessible for rural citizens.

Impact Foundation Bangladesh (IFB) launched Jibon Tari, the first floating hospital in the country, on April 10, 1999. Since then, for more than two decades, the three-deck floating hospital has been providing specialised health check-ups and services for eyes, ENT, orthopaedics and issues related to physical deformity to the disadvantaged population living in remote riverine areas.

The 40-metre-long and 10-metre-wide floating hospital is equipped with modern medical and surgical equipment. The facility also includes accommodation for 32 full-time residential staff members, including doctors, nurses, paramedics, medical technologists and support staff. It is equipped with two marine generators for uninterrupted power and a water-purifying plant for safe water.

Asked about how the floating hospital operates, Md Alauddin, administrator of Jibon Tari, said, "Before docking in any area, we survey the region. We inspect if the docking area has enough water, access to electricity, and whether a good number of patients exist who require our services."

"We take help from the district administrations, union parishads, and civil surgeons of local health facilities to conduct this survey. After we are docked, residents of the area are informed of our hospital through billboards and announcements," said Alauddin.

"Some residents who have already availed our services contact us beforehand and let us know of their ailments. They take information on where we are docked at present and come in for a visitation accordingly or ask us when we will dock in their area," he added.

Most of the patients at Jibon Tari go to get alleviation for different physical deformities, particularly cataracts. Besides that, the hospital has two operation theatres where orthopaedic, general and plastic surgery is performed, Alauddin informed.

Even during the pandemic, the hospital provided medical services and ran awareness campaigns on Covid-19.

"Our staff works round the clock to ensure that the operating theatres are in pristine, germ-free conditions. We usually stay docked in an area for as long as we have patients. On average, in every area we receive around 150-200 patients," he said.

"During the last two decades, many foreign surgeons from our donor agencies have visited the hospital to provide training to the local health providers and developed a system with protocols for quality treatment and care at the hospital," he further said.

IFB also has a training centre at its Chuadanga health facility, where its hosts seven-day training sessions on birth support to prevent disabilities during the process.

Additionally, it trains school teachers on how to conduct basic eye check-ups on students and train community leaders.

"To date, we have served patients in 32 locations in 22 districts. Seven lakh patients have availed medical services, and more than 50,000 patients have undergone surgeries," Alauddin said.

Dr Hasib Mahmud, CEO of IFB, said, "The lifespan of floating hospitals is usually 30 years. We have to get our vessel's clearance renewed from Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Corporation every year after the authority performs a thorough fitness check."

"Almost 23 years into running this operation, our greatest challenge now is to find a way to continue our work after the next seven years. We'll have to get a new vessel and donors, since we now know the demand for services like ours is high," he said.


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