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February 15, 2013

Health Crisis Threatens Displaced Syrians

by Scott Bobb

The estimated two million people displaced by Syria's civil war are fighting health issues in the heart of winter.  A lack of medical supplies, crowded conditions in camps and inadequate sanitation and water supplies are creating health threats. 

Morning in the Bab al-Salama camp of 10,000 Syrians made homeless by the civil war: doctors are treating a baby suffering from bronchitis. Respiratory diseases are common in this tent city where winter temperatures drop to near-freezing at night.

Bara' Al-Nasser, with the group Medical Relief for Syria, is a plastic surgeon who left his practice in Damascus -- to care for fellow Syrians who have lost everything during the nearly two years of fighting and bombings.

He says he sees up to 100 patients a day, more than triple the number he used to see at his peacetime practice.  More than half of these are children under five years old.  Many are suffering from diarrhea, respiratory diseases or Hepatitis (Type A).

“The diarrhea maybe is the biggest problem. And you are now in winter. I don't know what will happen in summer. Maybe it will increase and increase. And we are really afraid of cholera,” Nasser stated.

Many also suffer from conditions such as blindness, loss of hearing and shortness of breath.  For those with high blood pressure, heart disease and cancer, medicine is not available.

Many children suffer from mental trauma.  They have seen family and friends killed or maimed and their homes and schools destroyed.

“The bigger [psychological] problem here is peeing on themselves at night, screaming, screaming at night. They don't sleep well. Now we are trying to make another container for mental health.”

Dr. Nasser says the people in the camp need shoes, socks, coats, blankets and space heaters to protect them from the winter cold. And he says there needs to be more health education because the people coming to this camp are the poorest of Syria's poor.