ZA'ATARI CAMP, JORDAN —
Many Syrian children under 5 years old cannot remember life before violence and homelessness. At a sprawling refugee camp in Jordan, parents say their children suffer everything from epilepsy to incontinence as a result of trauma, and camp hospitals are not equipped to solve this complex health crisis.
Many ailments affecting children
Morhaf is 4 1/2- years- old, and his mother said he started having seizures as a baby after the bombing began. His 1-year-old brother, Rafaat, is malnourished because of constant vomiting and diarrhea.
As she waits at refugee camp clinic for medicines for her children, Aziza Ghazawi said trauma from the violence of the Syrian war has ruined the health of all of her six children. “The shelling was constant and my house was totally demolished. One of my children was hurt. My daughter's leg was injured. My son developed epileptic seizures from the air raids. My youngest child doesn’t eat or drink,” she said.
Other parents at the camp say most of the children born since the war began four years ago have health problems.
Aid workers say the families fled gruesome battles to live in rough conditions, making them sicker than other people. And their numbers keep growing.
“There is tremendous pressure on health centers inside the camps because there is a large demand from huge numbers of refugees. From one day to another we are trying to cope with these problems. We are trying to increase the number of doctors and health centers. But it can not be underestimated how many people still need health care,” explained Najed Bawaneh, Jordan Health Aid Society.
Health crisis grows in camps
And as the crisis grows, funds to help refugees are dwindling, said Nasreddine Touaibia, a spokesman for the U.N.’s refugee agency at the camp. “The general picture is 600,000 refugees in Jordan alone. And more than 3.5 million refugees in the region. So Za’atari is really the tip of the iceberg. And that’s the biggest challenge," Touaibia said. "To keep the funding and to keep the programs running.”
Some parents say the care needed for children who may have complex trauma injuries is difficult to find anywhere, and nearly impossible for refugees.
“She is four years old, and she has been like this for four years. I’ve taken her everywhere I can for help. She cannot speak, she cannot hear, and she is terrified at night,” explained refugee Tayssir Fowaz Shehada.
His daughter, Bissan, is also incontinent and has trouble focusing her eyes, he said. His wife said the child was born at home, while bombs reigned down on her city. “We didn’t take her for medical care in the hospital immediately. She waited at our home in Syria for ten days. We didn’t take her to the hospital because the hospital was under siege. It was completely surrounded,” he added.
Ghazawi said she thinks the health crisis will get worse before it gets better, with no end in sight for the war. And Morhaf’s generation of Syrian children, she said, are already more sick and tired than many of the adults.