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Sunday, April 11, 1999 Published at 13:36 GMT 14:36 UK

World: South Asia

Floating hospital for Bangladesh

Many areas of Bangladesh are accessible only by water

By David Chazan in Dhaka

A floating hospital has been launched in Bangladesh by the Impact Foundation, an international charity which specialises in helping disabled people and the poor.

The aim is to bring surgical treatment to areas accessible only by river, where there are no hospitals and few medical facilities.

Treatment will be provided by volunteer doctors assisted by a small permanent staff.

They will perform operations to make people blinded by cataracts see again, and to allow people disabled by disease to walk again.

In some parts of Bangladesh, one person in six is disabled, but doctors say about half those disabilities could be removed or vastly alleviated by surgery.

Ship of Light

The floating hospital, which will also vaccinate children and provide other medical services, is called the Jibon Tari, or Ship of Light - a name taken from a poem by the Bengali writer, Rabindranath Tagore.

Most of the $1.5m it cost to build the Jibon Tari was raised in Britain.

Sir John Wilson, President of Impact, said the floating hospital had all the capability of a really big city hospital.

"We believe that it can, over the years, change the whole pattern of disability amongst these people in the waterways," he said.

Patients will asked to pay a fee of about 20 cents but there will be no charge for those who can't afford even that.

Monsur Choudhuri of Impact says the floating hospital is believed to be the first of its kind in the world.

"I feel very proud the Jibon Tari for the first time will be travelling to the south of Bangladesh where many people on off-shore islands have no access to modern medical facilities," he said.

Both Monsur Choudhuri and Sir John Wilson are blind. With the floating hospital they hope to help other disabled people to lead useful and productive lives.

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