“I spent months immobilized. I couldn’t walk or work. I couldn’t even afford to buy candy for my son,” remembers Ibrahim.
Two years ago, Ibrahim saw his house get hit by a rocket and suddenly bricks were collapsing on his body causing disjointed fractures on his leg.
“It is only thanks to the healthcare workers and the doctors that treated me at the French hospital in Damascus that today I can dream once more about a better future for my family and myself," says Ibrahim.
Ibrahim is one of the 23,000 Syrians who have so far received free treatment thanks to the project “Open Hospitals”, launched in Syria in 2017 on the initiative of Cardinal Mario Zenari, Apostolic Nuncio to Syria and implemented by AVSI as a response to the humanitarian crisis in Syria.
“Among the many praiseworthy initiatives that you have promoted, this year I would like to mention the great work to support the return of the Christian communities to the plain of Nineveh, in Iraq, and the healthcare offered to many poor people in Syria, in particular through the project Open Hospitals". With these words, Pope Francis praised AVSI’s Open Hospitals project during his opening speech at this year’s meeting to discuss the crisis in Syria and Iraq.
Open Hospitals was born as a concrete answer to the healthcare crisis in Syria after seven years of war, through the initiative of Cardinal Mario Zenari, Apostolic Nuncio in Syria and the support of the Holy See. AVSI designed the intervention and is in charge of the procurement of the financial resources and of the overall management of the project in partnership with the participating facilities. In fact the main objective is to restore three hospitals in Syria - the Italian hospital and the French hospital in Damascus and St. Louis hospital in Aleppo – to full functionality, with the focus on ensuring access to hospital care, free of charge, for the poorest and most vulnerable.
In ten simple points, we explain how the Syria conflict has damaged the country’s health system, why millions of people no longer have access to treatment and care and how you can help change this through AVSI’s campaign Operations Open Hospitals.
1. What is happening in Syria:
Since 2011, Syria has been shaken by conflict that has resulted in what UNHCR has described as “the biggest humanitarian and refugee crisis of our time.” In 2016, the UN agency estimated that 13.5 million people, including 6 million children, were in need of humanitarian assistance. Almost 9 million people live every day hungry or with food insecurity (fear of going hungry) as a daily part of life because they don’t have reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable and nutritious food.
2. The collapse of the health system
After nearly six years of war, the Syrian health system is collapsing. According to UN OCHA current figures, an astounding 11.5 million Syrians, including nearly 5 million children, do not have access to health care. In Damascus, at least 1.5 million of people don’t have access to hospitals, and in Aleppo the number reaches 2.2 million.
3. Lack of health care personnel
The critical condition is growing mainly because of the chronic shortage of human and material resources. It is estimated that 55% of the public hospitals and 49% of the health community centers are closed or only partially functional. The health infrastructures still in place are in critical condition since it is difficult to access electricity, fuel and drinking water. In addition, more than 658 people who used to work in these structures have been killed since the beginning of the crisis.
Of the Syrian medical personnel, only about 45% are left and active in the country. This is due to the massive migration, which includes many Syrians, and leaves a great gap of available personnel and specialists able to respond to the growing demand of care.
The lack of midwives, among others, is an example that illustrates the collapse of the country’s health system. Today in Syria, there are about 300,000 pregnant women that are not able to receive appropriate pre-natal treatment.4. Lack of medicines/drugs
Many pharmaceutical companies and drugs storage centers have been destroyed. The infrastructures that were not affected have also stopped working with regularity due to the serious shortage of skilled human resources and raw materials.
The lack of drugs and medical equipment affects all the population, but in particular puts at risk the health, and in some cases the life, of people suffering from chronic diseases, and who need continuous care and treatment.
From the beginning of the Syrian Civil War in 2011 to 2013, life expectancy in Syria fell by six years. In 2010, men and women were expected to live to 75 and 80 respectively, but the estimate changed in 2013 to only until 69 and 75 by 2013. Infant deaths in the country rose by 9.1% over the same period.
5. Embargoes and sanctions on Syria
Embargoes and sanctions on Syria only aggravate more the situation. Officially, the restrictions shouldn’t affect humanitarian aid but, in reality, sanctions have prevented the entry of essential medical supplies and of spare parts to fix medical equipment into the country. Given the possible double use (health and military), these supplies and equipment are not allowed to enter the country.
6. The economic difficulties of health
The lack of contributions, both public and private, makes it almost impossible for hospitals to respond adequately to the needs of the entire population. The poorest are the most affected because they are not able to bear the costs of proper medical treatment.
7. Epidemic risk
The basic health services in serious conditions and the difficulties to access clean water, energy and sanitation services might lead Syria into an outbreak of diseases linked to water.
8. Working to face the crisis
This year, responding to an appeal made by the current Apostolic Nuncio to Syria, Cardinal Mario Zenari, AVSI Foundation has decided to support economically the work of 3 private non-profit hospitals in Syria. Two are located in Damascus and the other one in Aleppo.
9. The three hospitals supported in Syria
AVSI will raise funds for The Italian Hospital and St. Louis Hospital, in Damascus, and for the St. Louis Hospital in Aleppo. These three health centers were chosen because they have the ability to offer high-level services in all medical specializations.
Currently, these three hospitals are operating at half their capacity, in spite of the growing need of the population in both cities. AVSI’s project aims to increase the availability of bed space by 90%, increase the access to free health care services for patients who cannot afford them, establish a Social Services office to assess and guarantee access to treatment and care to those most in need, and update the information and technology systems of the hospitals by acquiring necessary equipment and training staff accordingly.
10. What can I do to help?
With your donation, we can support those who are in Syria working closely with the population in order to meet the most immediate needs of the innocent victims of this senseless war. AVSI launched a campaign to help three non-profit and private hospitals in Aleppo and Damascus in order to guarantee access to health to the poorest, the children, the single mothers and the wounded.
If you donate $50 today, we will be able to take care of one patient for one day. But mainly we will be able to give this person hope and the priceless notion that he/she is not facing this war alone.
Help us. Donate now to Syria.
Anton Barbu, responsible for AVSI’s activities in Syria, talks about the children of Damascus in this interview with the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera: “Every day, I leave my house at around 7:30 to go to AVSI’s office in Damascus. It’s a ten-minute walk. On my way, I encounter at least 30 children sleeping on the sidewalk.”
How is the current situation in Syria?
I have recently spoken with a father who lives in #Aleppo. He described heartbreaking scenes: children wondering around the rubble because their families have either left town or can no longer take care of them. But also in Damascus the situation has deteriorated. Every time I stop at a traffic light, I’m “surrounded” by many children trying to sell whatever they have, most of the time stacks of tissues.
Is there a future for Syrian children?
In Europe we say that children are the future. In Syria, they are the present, in the sense that at least 2 million children are currently living a daily drama in areas difficult to reach.
Do you think in Damascus a child suffer less than in Aleppo?
If we really want to say that, I guess we can. At least in Damascus, children have a sidewalk to sleep on. In Aleppo, not even that.
SYRIAN WOMAN WHO MANAGES AVSI EDUCATIONAL PROJECTS IN LEBANON SHARED HER EXPERIENCE WITH REFUGEE CHILDREN
Walking for the first time across the streets of New York, Rana Najib gets emotional when she sees the Syrian flag among the 200 that surround the Rockefeller Plaza.
“I wasn’t expecting to see the Syrian flag here,” explained Ms. Najib.
Monday, July 18, 2016 was a very long and emotional day for this 38-year-old Syrian who had to move to Lebanon to find a better way to work and live after the war in Syria began. Currently managing educational projects for AVSI in Lebanon, Ms. Najib was invited by the United Nations to participate in a fundamental, pressing and, in her case, very personal discussion: how to address large movements of refugees and migrants. Her participation in an interactive multi-stakeholder hearing at the UN was fundamental for two reasons: she is originally from Syria and she works daily in the field with refugee children and adolescents, a background and experience that most of the panelists couldn’t share with the audience.
“There were a couple of Syrians in the audience, but surprisingly none on the panel,” commented Ms. Najib after the event.
The main goal of the multi-stakeholder hearing was to provide an opportunity for member States to exchange views and to inform the inter-governmental negotiation toward the finalization of an outcome document for the United Nations Summit for Refugees and Migrants. The Summit will be held on September 19, 2016 at the UN headquarters in New York. Based on the most recent UNHCR Global Trends report (June, 2016), 65.3 million people were displaced from their homes by conflict and persecution in 2015, the highest number since UNHCR records began.
Ms. Najib exchanged ideas with a diverse group of speakers representing other international NGOs about the specific theme "Reframing the narrative on migration and refugees in the context of the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda”. The other participants in the debate were Mr. Richard Bennett, Representative and Head of Amnesty International's UN Office; Ms. Sybil Nmezi, Executive Director of Generation Initiative for Women and Youth Network; Ms. Sandra Vermuyten, Head of Campaigns of Public Services International (PSI); Ms. Sandra Saric, Vice President of Talent Innovation, Information and Communications Technology Council (ICTC). They addressed the theme by answering three different questions. The first one was “How can we combat xenophobia and discrimination and build a strong narrative that recognizes the positive contribution of migrants for inclusive growth and sustainable development?”
Based on her experience with AVSI, Ms. Najib’s answered that this is an issue that needs to be addressed using three different but combined efforts:
“One of the key elements to combat discrimination and build a strong narrative that recognizes the positive contribution of migrants is to engage local communities to work closely with refugees through social and educational projects,” said Ms. Najib. “The second element is to analyze discriminatory and exclusionary practices that prevent refugees from effectively participating in society, many times, resulting in a waste of talent. Finally, acknowledging the crucial role of the media can help build a positive image about the refugees.”
During the panel, Ms. Najib and the other participants also had to answer two more questions: “How can we encourage national and global leaders (political, social, economic and religious) and the media to promote a more positive narrative on migration and refugees?” and “How could NGOs and civil society, including the private sector and academia, contribute to a global campaign to counter xenophobia, as proposed by the Secretary-General in his report for the 19 September Summit?”.
“Unfortunately, some politicians constantly use bad narratives when talking about refugees to get consensus. This is one of the reasons why I believe that a great effort has to start from the bottom. We have to help citizens to accept that we are living in multicultural and pluralistic societies. In our globalized world, this is a fact that cannot be stopped or fought,” said Ms. Najib. “In other words, living together (different people from different countries, cultures and religions) can be a positive and enriching experience rather than a negative condition that needs to be avoided at all costs.”
Back in Lebanon, Ms. Najib is working on the project “Supporting the enrollment and retention of vulnerable children in public schools in Lebanon”. Funded by UNICEF and implemented by AVSI, the project aims to work with a total of 12,000 children and their families through four different initiatives: early childhood education activities targeting 4,230 children aged 3-6 years without access to Kindergarten; outreach activities to explain how families can enroll their children in the Lebanese formal public education; homework and remedial support that targets enrolled and at-risk children in public schools, and life skills activities for adolescents.
“Through this project, we are targeting children of all ages, starting from the little ones who have never been to school, but also helping families understand how to enroll their children in the Lebanese School system and provide after school support for those who are about to drop out because they are struggling”, explained Ms. Najib.
Rana’s participation in the multi-stakeholder hearing had a considerable impact on her life, both professionally and personally.
“This opportunity taught me a lot about international cooperation and gave me the opportunity to network with partners and stakeholders,” said Ms. Najib. “Personally, I’m going back to Lebanon feeling more confident”.
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