Latest aid delivery to Madaya missing protein to treat severe malnutrition


March 21, 2016

AMMAN: The encircled town of Madaya received a delivery of food aid, but local doctors told Syria Direct on Monday that the nearly 8,000 parcels lacked the animal protein they requested to treat the growing number of people with severe acute malnutrition.

The 18-kilogram packages delivered by the Syrian Arab Red Crescent on March 17 all had “five cans of tuna” printed on the side, but 3,000 of the boxes contained no tuna, and an additional 1,000 parcels had only one can inside, Mohammed Darwish, a doctor at the town’s field hospital, told Syria Direct.

It remains unclear whether the roughly 4,000 remaining parcels contained the five cans of tuna. “Until now we are receiving complaints about the baskets being incomplete,” Umar a-Sheikh, an aid worker inside Madaya who helped distribute Thursday’s delivery, told Syria Direct on Monday.

Some parcels were in fact missing tuna and “we are on it,” International Committee for the Red Cross spokesman Pavel Krzysiek told Syria Direct Monday.

“It was clearly our mistake and we are investigating the reasons behind that,” Krzysiek said. An ICRC team asked the Madaya Relief Committee “to give feedback on the exact number of [tuna] cans missing in total, so as to make arrangements to compensate for that.”

Aid delivery to Madaya on March 17. Photo courtesy of SARC.

The Relief Committee reported that a total of 610 parcels out of 7,800 were missing tuna, said Krzysiek.

The aid caravans are filled with pre-packaged parcels “from abroad,” the Red Cross spokesman said. The ICRC “is normally unable to check all the parcels” as they number in the hundreds of thousands. “For now, we are checking all the food badges [labels] and if this proves to be a pattern, we will revise the checking mechanism,” said Krzysiek.

Aid baskets delivered last Thursday to the former resort town 40km northwest of Damascus included rice, bulgur wheat, sugar, lentils, beans, tea, and sunflower seed oil, said Umar a-Sheikh. “It will suffice for about a month,” Darwish told Syria Direct Monday.

Since January, local medical personnel in Madaya have called for food assistance rich in protein, particularly animal protein. Four UN-coordinated humanitarian aid deliveries in January and February contained food high in carbohydrates and low in protein, which caused kidney and liver failure among starving civilians as well as the retention of fluids in the body leading to edema, or bloating, Mohammed Yusuf, head of the Medical Society in Madaya, told Syria Direct.

There are more than 2,000 cases of bloating caused by malnutrition in the town since the aid deliveries began, say Yusuf and Darwish, the two Madaya doctors.

Four residents have died from complications of malnutrition-related bloating since late February, Hussam Madaya, a member of the United Aid Society, responsible for distributing humanitarian deliveries in Madaya, told Syria Direct earlier this month.

While the humanitarian aid that arrived throughout January and February contained protein in the form of lentils, beans, and chickpeas, “what we lack is animal protein,” Yusuf said earlier this month, adding that the food in the aid parcels “can cause bloating.”

One day after the March 17 humanitarian aid delivery, a delegation from the Syrian Arab Red Crescent met with local medical personnel, said Darwish. “They promised us to make up for the lack of animal protein,” he said.

In related Madaya news, the two patients with intestinal injuries trapped inside the encircled city have not been allowed to leave, Darwish told Syria Direct on Monday. They are “getting worse,” he said. Syria Direct appealed to the international community last week for assistance getting them and dozens of the most urgent cases out of Madaya for treatment.

“WHO received assurance from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs that medical referrals will be allowed, so we will approach the Syrian Arab Red Crescent to start planning visits in the hopes that…approvals for those who need to be treated will be granted,” WHO spokesman Tarik Jasarevic told Syria Direct last Thursday.

Madaya entered into a truce agreement with the regime in September 2015 that stipulated the entrance of aid to regime-controlled Kafariya and al-Fuaa in Syria’s north in exchange for the regime doing the same in rebel-held Zabadani and Madaya.

Despite the truce, Madaya remains under a total blockade imposed by regime forces and its ally Hezbollah that began last July during a battle for control of neighboring rebel-held Zabadani, a gateway to key smuggling routes into Lebanon across the Qalamoun mountains.

The ongoing blockade of Madaya is punitive: Attempting to leave the town or smuggle anything or anyone in or out can be deadly.

At least 30 civilians have been killed by landmines or snipers trying to pass through Madaya’s security cordon, according to a January report by the Syrian American Medical Society.

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