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A Grim Anniversary for Syria

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by Sarah Vanderburg Austria | Mar 14, 2018

March 15 marks seven years since war began in Syria. Nearly 11 million residents, half of the pre-war population, have been forced from their homes, fleeing to other parts of Syria or to neighboring countries. Families have lost livelihoods. Babies have lost parents. Children have lost dreams. Over the course of the war, Medical Teams International has met Syrians, whether displaced within their country or as refugees outside it, along their journey to safety and healing.

***How Medical Teams Helps Syrian Refugees**

After fleeing horrendous violence, refugees then struggle to survive without basic health care. By meeting the medical needs of Syrians trapped in besieged cities and those who have settled as refugees in neighboring countries, Medical Teams International relieves some of the pressure on host countries and makes sure refugees get the life-saving care they need.

As refugee populations have moved, so have we. Medical Teams International worked in Greece as the country saw a major influx of refugees from Syria. We met them there and brought them healing. As the war continued, Medical Teams International shifted our work to focus on refugees settled in Turkey and Lebanon.

Trapped in Syria

As of today, 13 million people left in Syria are in need of humanitarian aid. Bombings and horrific acts of war make basic needs like food, water, and medical care difficult to find. As clinics and hospitals are destroyed, health care becomes less available. Now, fewer than half of the medical facilities in Syria are functional. Horrifically, the remaining clinics are increasingly targeted by attacks, putting countless more lives at risk.

Patients trapped within the borders of Syria urgently need medical supplies and support. Through a partnership with International Blue Crescent Relief and Development

Foundation, Medical Teams International provides shipments of much-needed medicine and medical supplies to facilities providing care within Syria.

Even amidst intensified attacks in 2018, we're thankful we can continue delivering vital supplies to underserved clinics and hospitals in hard-hit areas. More than 250,000 people have arrived in northern Idlib since January. We immediately increased our response by activating six health centers in the area. In northern Syria, where security and economic conditions regularly drive qualified health workers to leave, Medical Teams is currently supporting 50 health workers to enable them to continue providing health care to more than 700 patients every day.

Community Health Workers

As more Syrians are forced from their homes and unable to return, effects of the crisis reverberate throughout the region. Most Syrian refugees live in Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan, largely in cities, with a much smaller portion residing in informal refugee settlements in rural areas.

Host countries try to care for the refugees, but their infrastructures can’t absorb such immense numbers. Tensions are increasing between host countries and refugee populations, leading to discrimination against Syrians. Any savings the refugees may have had at the beginning of the war are likely gone. It's a challenge for refugees to find jobs, and with a lack of income they can’t afford to pay for housing and other essentials.

In areas with strained health care systems, Medical Teams International trains refugees as Community Health Workers. Community Health Workers are trained to identify chronic health conditions and connect patients with available medical care. In doing so, they extend the reach of limited healthcare providers -- advocating for their neighbors and families and avoiding additional suffering.

These locally-trained refugees are an invaluable asset to the health of their communities, where there are simply not enough medical professionals. The training also presents a valuable educational opportunity for refugees, and a way to apply their experiences and resourcefulness to make a positive difference for their community.

Trauma and Mental Health Care

Seven years of war affects not only physical health, but mental health as well. Many Syrian refugees have lost everything and witnessed horrendous violence. Impacts on mental health, sometimes labeled “invisible illnesses,” are painfully real. Stress-induced hypertension and stress-induced diabetes are serious or even deadly if left untreated.

In refugee settlements, we train Community Health Workers to identify these illnesses and refer patients to proper care. We also provide education on lifestyle changes that can improve symptoms for patients who can’t access medication.

Even when medical care is available for refugees, access to mental health care is usually not included. Mental health disorders without treatment can have deadly effects on families. Medical Teams International partners with local centers and clinics to provide mental health assessments and referrals for care in these communities. As the war drags on and programs focus on long-term healing, this will be an increasingly important issue.

Where We Go From Here

The enormity of the Syrian war and the repercussions on the people of Syria is daunting. However, we owe it to Syrians to continue to pay attention and to support them with our commitment to their healing. The grandmother suffering from diabetes, the infant brought safely into the world in a refugee settlement, the parents seeking help for the traumatic effects of war...These are the faces of real people experiencing this crisis, who in the midst of seven years of turmoil have felt the effects of YOUR love in the form of prayers and medical care. Thank you.