A Rohingya refugee child with hydrocephalus has undergone a potentially life-saving procedure in Dhaka. Omar Faisal, a six-year old boy from Andang, Myanmar, who currently lives in Kutupalong Rohingya camp, was given special permission by the Bangladesh camp authorities to exit the refugee camp and seek treatment in Dhaka. The operation was carried out successfully by a Dhaka-based neurosurgeon, Dr Rezina Hamid, and her team.
Hydrocephalus is a condition in which cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) builds up within the brain. About half of untreated children die by the age of two. Most of the remainder have large heads and are developmentally delayed, spastic, and blind. Omar Faisal’s parents were unable to access medical care in Myanmar. Two years before the refugee influx of August 2017, the parents brought Omar Faisal to Bangladesh to seek treatment but found the costs prohibitive and returned home without treatment. During the Rohingya exodus of 2017, the family again arrived in Bangladesh but as refugees.
Professor Benjamin C Warf, Professor of Neurosurgery at Harvard Medical School and an expert on the condition, said “This child is a survivor. It is a double tragedy, because the condition is so treatable and the children can do really well.” He continued “At this age, the brain has finished the bulk of its growth (by age 2) and the cognitive and motor effects are irreversible.” Dr Rezina Hamid, formerly trained by Professor Warf, remarked that without the procedure Omar Faisal’s “disabilities would likely increase” and he was in danger of “becoming completely blind.” The treatment has involved the implantation of a shunt, under general anaesthetic, via a hole made through the skull to allow excess fluid to drain away to another part of the body,
The parents of Omar Faisal praised their son’s bravery and resilience. In particular, they recalled how during their flight from Myanmar and on day 10 of their 15 day journey to Bangladesh, Omar Faisal, who had to be carried, asked to be left behind so that he did not slow down his parents and siblings and thereby expose them to danger. Rahimullah, the father, said “We know this operation has risks but we really want him to have a chance. We are very grateful and now it is in god’s hands.”
Omar is being discharged on Thursday 8th August. He will spend a few weeks recuperating and will then travel back to the Rohingya camps of Cox’s Bazar. The effort to bring Omar Faisal to Dhaka was not organised by the major health agencies in the camps but by individuals. The absence of agency involvement is thought to be because of resource constraints and lack of affordability in complex cases.