In the silted islands of the northern districts of Bangladesh, although inhabited by thousands, once upon a time there were no citizen facilities available. With no school, no health care system, no administration, the people living on those islands were some of the most isolated and poverty ridden population in the world.
Then in 2002, a noble initiative started to transform the situation. For the first time in Bangladesh, these poor and isolated people of these islands realised that they did not have to cross hundreds of kilometres of waterways for medical treatment but the hospital itself had come to them with free medicine and free treatment. Thanks to Runa Khan's noble and innovative initiative of the floating hospital, she has saved millions of lives by providing primary and secondary health care and free medicine to the destitute people of these isolated islands.
Runa Khan is the founder of Friendship, one of the most successful value based social service organisations that has been transforming the least privileged communities of the country into self dependent, productive and self sufficient communities not only by providing materialistic support but also helping people with value based approaches, to find a new, peaceful, harmonious and ethical way of life. Its wide range of social services includes healthcare, education, nutrition, sustainable economic development and advocacy and so on.
It all started when the French adventurer Yves Marre sailed to Bangladesh from France on a river barge with a view to utilising the barge for any humanitarian work. “At that time I had an opportunity to visit some of the isolated char areas and the horrible living condition of these poor people appalled me. The most unfortunate thing that I saw was that they were dying of simple diseases like diarrhoea because of no medical care,” says Runa.
“So, when I heard about Yves’s noble intention, the idea of a floating hospital struck my mind,” she adds. And with the help from Unilever the Lifebuoy Friendship floating hospital was launched in 2001. Currently, Friendship is operating two floating hospitals namely Emirates Friendship Hospital and Rongdhonu Friendship Hospital in the remotest parts of the country.
Runa Khan with her organisation has developed an innovative three tier health care system in Bangladesh whose efficiency is second to none in the country if not in the world. Besides the floating hospitals, each of which treats 20,000 patients every month, Friendship has been running around 229 satellite clinics in the chars. These satellite clinics manned by a paramedic, health assistant and a helper visits the isolated settlements on motor boats and provides emergency healthcare and counselling on child care, safe motherhood etc.
“We observed that providing primary and secondary health care through satellite clinics and floating hospitals cannot be feasible or long term solutions of the problem,” says Runa.
“So, we decided to launch Friendship Community Medics Programme (FCM) through which we have been providing quality training to the community medics so that they can ensure a right primary treatment at the right moment to the right patient,” she adds.
Besides healthcare services, Runa Khan and her organisation's contribution to ensure a quality education for these least privileged people is also notable. More than 6000 children of 143 schools of Friendship all over the country have been receiving well designed courses on dignity and ethics besides their formal education. “For a better Bangladesh, we need not only skilled, educated manpower but also we need men and women of character and ethics. Therefore, in our schools we give special emphasis on teaching and learning moral values, ethics and sense of dignity”, says Runa.
There are many organisations in Bangladesh which do similar activities like Friendship but what sets Friendship apart from those is Runa's dedication and determination to provide an ethical and dignified life of quality and social security. “I never compromise with the quality of services provided by my organisation for these people who have all the rights to lead a dignified life just like me,” says a determined Runa.
“I will continue to fight for the rights and justice for these people so that these least privileged and unaddressed people can have equal opportunities and can live with dignity and hope,” she adds.