The Jibon Tari is a floating hospital, launched in April 1999, which takes medical treatment to the poorest people of rural Bangladesh. Though the statistic keeps changing, and is likely to change for the worse, it is estimated that half of Bangladesh is about six metres under water.
The result is that tens of thousands of the country's population scratch out a primitive, often nomadic, existence on flat silt islands known as chars that are often no more than a metre above sea level.
The Jibon Tari is adequately equipped and staffed but it is the formidable efficiency with which it is run that keeps it afloat. The hospital travels down the waterways to moor at each remote village for approximately 12 weeks at a time. While it is docked, local islanders (many of whom would otherwise be incapable of reaching mainland care) are examined and treated.
There is nothing picturesque about this floating infirmary: the boat is tied to trees along the riverbanks in an attempt to keep the operating theatre steady and to combat the ever-changing water-levels. A large proportion of the patients that surge on to the boat are afflicted with cataracts: they are instructed to mark the brow above the afflicted eye with a strip of surgical tape before meeting a doctor.
The boat is funded by Impact Foundation Bangladesh, which is a branch of a London-based aid organisation specialising in helping to cure disability in the developing world. From the outset, it was important to Impact that the people to whom the boat would bring aid did not feel patronised. There is consequently no sense of a foreign boat hoving into view and doling out largesse.