2019 Asia Trek: Visiting Health Equity Field Action in Bangladesh

One of the Equity Initiative’s learning modules is an Asia Trek to expose Fellows to outstanding equity actions in Asia. The 2019 Asia Trek (August 31 to September 7) brought 24 Fellows to Bangladesh, a country where 24.3% of the population lives in poverty and where an influx of Rohingya refugees is placing additional burdens on resources and capacity. A wide range of stakeholders introduced Fellows to Bangladesh’s history and culture, and explained how the country can be both a source of inspiration and a challenge for policymakers and development practitioners.

This year’s visit was to BRAC, recognized as the world’s #1 NGO with >100,000 full-time workers, turning over an annual budget >$1 billion, and serving >100 million people in Bangladesh and 11 other Asian and African countries. BRAC has pioneered many innovations that have spread globally, including its graduation program for the ultra-poor, national oral rehydration therapy and tuberculosis programs, and education and gender equity actions.  BRAC has established a bank and an advanced university, and expanded micro-credit. Fellows learned about BRAC programs that deliver basic healthcare services in rural and urban areas, build on frontline community health workers, and support social enterprises. Breaking into small groups for field visits, Fellows got up-close views of BRAC projects in Dhaka and Manikganj that link nearly 20 social enterprises to health and employ community-based models to improve the health of urban poor.

Visits to Rohingya camps and host communities in Cox’s Bazar left deep impressions on Fellows.  Bangladesh has shown compassion toward Rohingyas fleeing Myanmar by keeping its borders open, providing temporary shelter, and, with the help of the international community, leading the humanitarian response to this refugee crisis. Yet statelessness undermines human dignity and the enjoyment of fundamental freedoms. In response, BRAC and other NGOs are implementing a rights-based approach to their efforts in Cox’s Bazar, through such means as using community health workers to connect camp and host communities with service providers, providing skills training and other types of social supports in women-friendly spaces, and ensuring localized processes of interventions.

The Equity Initiative is a long-term program to nurture the development of a new generation of leaders for health equity in Asia and to build a network of multisectoral actors to advance health equity. Launched in 2016 with funding from CMB and the Atlantic Philanthropies, the fifth cohort of 25 Equity Fellows will be announced in early 2020.

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