4 min read  | Culture & Society, Interviews

Medicine on the Syrian border: People ‘are in desperate need of everything’


March 10, 2015

March 10, 2015

Nearly four years into the Syrian conflict, more than three million refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and beyond have strained local governments’ capacity to offer basic services to Syrians in desperate need of medical care.

Syrian Missions, which began organizing aid missions to Jordan in 2012, coordinates with the National Arab American Medical Association [NAAMA] to recruit volunteers and specialists from different specialties.

The organization runs week-long trips to Jordan three times a year, with volunteer doctors arriving with duffel bags stuffed with medicine. Once on the ground, they coordinate with local NGOs to organize temporary clinics for Syrian refugees.

Operating in the towns of Mafraq and Ramtha near the Syrian border, and the cities of Amman, Irbid and the Zaatari camp, Syrian Missions delivers on-site medical services at no charge.

“There is no outside funding, we don’t take a penny from anyone,” says Dr. Humam Akbik, head of the Pain Medicine Division at Mercy Health Hospital in Cinncinati

The mission to Jordan was organized and managed by Atlantic Humanitarian Relief in collaboration with other partners, of whom Dr. Akbik is one. The volunteers provided free medical care, supplies, medication and humanitarian aid to displaced Syrians.

The volunteers pay for their own flights, accommodation and food because they believe they have an obligation to help, Akbik, a Harvard-educated physician, tells Syria Direct’s Ammar Hamou.

Syria Direct accompanied the team to one of its clinics in Ramtha last month.

Ramtha, just two kilometers from one of Jordan’s two official border crossings with Syria, is now home to thousands of refugees, many of whom fled Daraa province in the south.

On the day of the visit, hundreds of Syrians waited on the streets outside the town’s medical clinic, which had been reorganized and staffed by medical and humanitarian volunteers from the Atlantic Humanitarian Relief Organization to accommodate the mass influx of patients.

Below is a collection of quotations from doctors, patients and volunteers.

Dr. Humam Akbik, MD—Chief, Pain Medicine Division at Mercy Health

“There is no outside funding, we don’t take a penny from anyone.

You have to understand when I come [to Jordan], my office in America is closed, I don’t see patients, but I have employees and I have to pay them. You’re not only losing money from your productivity, your losing money, and then you’re paying here. It’s a triple whammy.

Twenty-five percent of our residents are Arabs with American backgrounds and seventy-five percent are Americans with no connections to Arabs or Syria.”

Ramtha2 Jordanian medical volunteers assist Syrian patients.

 Tisneem Mbydeen—Sixth-year Jordanian medical student, working in psycho-social clinic

“From the psycho-social side, you’re getting PTSD, anxiety, trauma from losing family members. People are also severely financially disabled so they’re worried about this—you find the full spectrum of issues.

This may be surprising given the socio-economic status of people, but they recognize that psycho-sociology is an important part of their health, especially people from the rural areas. You find that this is one of the first things that they ask for. Some people come here just for that support.

Many women have lost their husbands or have been abandoned.

People are in desperate need of everything. So providing them medicine for their chronic diseases like hypertension, diabetes, etc, is hugely important.”

Mouawia Nachawi—Syrian volunteer, translator 

“The organization has the experience now because it began three years ago. The doctors know what the patients need, what medicines they need to bring. That said, they still have problems. Even today they told me that the airport security took six bags of medicines…because the medicines came from the US.

The patients don’t care about whose treating them or from where the medicine comes.

Many of the patients think that they need to take with them the medicine now, even if they’re not sick at the moment, because they know they’ll need it later.

When you see injured people who can’t talk, who can’t see, I’ve seen things I don’t want to see—in one case, half the head was gone.”

Syrian male patient—asked to remain anonymous

“[I came today] primarily because of the experience of the physicians and the speed of access to medical services because of many doctors and good organization. On other days [when I go to a medical clinic] I may wait the entire day and still not see a doctor.”

Ramtha3 Dr. Humam Akbik distributes snacks to Syrian children.

Syrian female patient—45 years old, asked to remain anonymous

“For me the important thing [about today’s clinic as opposed to others] is its ability to see a large number of patients on the same day because there are so many doctors [in one place] and of all kinds of specialties.”

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