Monday March 15, 2021

Written by Jonaid Jilani

Ten years after the outbreak of conflict in Syria, the country is deep in crisis.

A staggering 11.1 million people are in need of humanitarian aid, with over six million people displaced from their homes.

Communities were already struggling but now with the Coronavirus pandemic having hit Syria, already vulnerable people are at an even higher risk.

Unable to socially distance due to overcrowding in some of the few safe areas, lacking a steady supply of food and with hospitals and medical resources stretched to breaking point, things could not be worse.

Dr Ihsan, a cardiologist working in a hospital in northern Syria, knows the reality all too well.

Like many hospitals in Syria, there are no facilities for Covid-19 patients where he works.

Dr Ihsan in Syria.

Many medical centres in the area lack critical intensive care units to treat Covid patients.

Despite this, Dr Ihsan and his team try their best to care for patients, including taking important precautions when treating patients at the hospital:

At the hospital, we are taking precautionary measures and wearing masks and gloves.

All patients have their temperature checked before entering the hospital and are asked if they have symptoms of coronavirus.

If they are symptomatic, they are sent to the quarantine centre. (Dr Ihsan)

Despite the enormous challenges, Dr Ihsan and his colleagues are serving their community day-in day-out during this crisis.


The reality behind the statistics: Life in war-torn Syria

Dr Ihsan on duty caring for patients in northern Syria.

Covid-19 reached northern Syria relatively late but is now spreading quickly. Over 16,000 cases have been recorded in the country, with over 1,000 deaths.

However, Dr Ihsan worries that the number of confirmed cases could be higher than official figures show:

The total number of cases [are] much higher, as not all those with symptoms take a test.

Many people are afraid to have a positive test result, and decide to isolate and stay home until they feel better.

Dealing with the Coronavirus was easier during the summer, as people were able to practice social distancing by spending time outside.

However, the freezing Syrian winter makes social distancing much more difficult, and with up to 10 people living in each tent, the virus can spread much faster in over-crowded camps for people who have been displaced from their homes.


Daily challenges: Inside the refugee camps

Syrian children braving the winter cold in a refugee camp.

Due to the deep poverty faced by people in the camps, not everyone can afford to buy masks or even soap. Even with the knowledge of how to practice good hygiene, not everyone has the means to do so.

This of course puts people living in the camps at very high risk of infection, with little means to control an outbreak, as Dr Ihsan explains:

Due to [having to use] communal bathrooms, clean water is not available all the time. People are unable to regularly wash their hands, as they do not have water or soap.

If someone gets Coronavirus, it is impossible for them to quarantine as they are living in a tent with six other people. We pray to Allah for help for these people.

Life in a crisis zone during the pandemic is taking its toll on medics like Dr Ihsan:

We see a lot of sad cases, some of which we are unable to forget.

For example, four years ago, an air strike happened at the entrance of our hospital. A guard, a nurse, and two others were killed. We were unable to do anything for them.

The combination of displacement, limited facilities in refugee camps and Coronavirus, has pushed this crisis to the limit.


Life as a doctor: Heart-breaking memories

Providing emergency healthcare in north-west Syria.

Dr Ihsan describes a 24-year-old man who came to him for support. He had no history of medical conditions and was showing only mild symptoms:

Two days later, his situation got worse. His oxygen saturation level was very low.

I sent him to the quarantine centre in the hospital, where he was admitted. His oxygen saturation levels dropped even further and he was given oxygen.

They then did a scan, which showed a worrying picture. I hope he recovers soon.

Dr Ihsan also worries about the impact of winter on those who already suffer from health conditions.

For those with chronic illnesses, winter is very dangerous, as getting the flu can worsen their condition. They would require quality medical care.

However, Covid-19 even affects healthy people. This means that the situation is even more difficult for those dealing with malnutrition, chronic illnesses, heart disease, or with issues in blood pressure or blood sugar.

Having access to food and medical care throughout this crisis is therefore critical.


Hopes for the future: Islamic Relief on the ground

A young boy sanitises his hands in north-west Syria.

Looking to the future, Dr Ihsan feels uncertain.

Thinking about 10 years into the future feels impossible. At the moment, we can barely think about the next month as we don’t know what is going to happen. Many people are dreaming about going back to their homes.

We know that more than 1.5 million were displaced in the last few months. So, we dream about peace in this area, we dream about all displaced people being able to go home, leaving their tents and their miserable situation.

For a population that has lived through a decade of crisis, Covid-19 is just another tragic reality to deal with.

Although people are very fearful of becoming ill, Dr Ihsan reports that, to many, the virus is just another crisis that pales in comparison to the horrors that they have already lived through:

People here are not very scared about Covid-19, because they have already been through so much.

They have dealt with airstrikes, displacement, miserable living conditions and losing loved ones. So, many consider Covid-19… [but it is] nothing compared to the injuries caused by air strikes, psychological trauma or the poverty they have been living in.

Here at Islamic Relief, we’re at the forefront of the response to the Covid-19 outbreak in Syria. We’re supporting 84 hospitals and medical centres in the north-west to help around 200,000 people.

How we’re helping people in Syria

As part of efforts to reduce the spread of coronavirus, we gave 84 health facilities personal protective equipment (PPE) including masks, gloves, and medical gowns, as well as no-contact thermometers, hand disinfectant gels, disinfectant sprays and other sterilisation solutions.

In addition, we’ve also been:

  • Running awareness-raising campaigns in health facilities and establishing quarantine areas
  • Providing specific training on appropriate disinfection procedures and measures to limit Covid-19 transmission for staff across 20 key health facilities
  • Offering financial support by paying the salaries of 150 doctors and nurses
  • Running mobile emergency units by converting trucks into ambulances and transportable operating rooms in order to take healthcare to where it’s needed most

Help us continue to be a lifeline for those still suffering after a decade of crisis.

Please donate today towards our Syria appeal and help save lives.

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