Abd Al Gader, a 12-year-old with big, dark eyes, could barely walk when he arrived at the Zaatari refugee camp in the Jordanian desert after escaping the war in Syria. Suffering from tuberculosis and having run out of medicine, Abd Al Gader fled with his family from their farm east of Damascus with the few belongings they could carry and embarked on a dangerous journey towards safety.
Abd Al Gader’s cough worsened as the family trekked for days, sleeping in the open during cold, February nights and enduring shelling and thieves, before finally reaching the border. “We lost our crops and our house was destroyed,” said the boy’s father, Awash. “I feared for his life. That is when I decided we had to leave.”
In Zaatari, the family settled into a tentAbd Al Gader resumed his TB treatment at the camp’s clinic. Today, cured of the disease, he is strong enough to play football with his friends in a dusty pitch and to attend one of the camp’s schools.
In cooperation with local and international partners, the Global Fund is supporting the provision of essential TB prevention, diagnosis and treatment services to Syrian refugees in Lebanon and Jordan. The assistance comes from the Global Fund’s Emergency Fund, a special initiative to provide quick, flexible access to funds to respond to HIV, TB and malaria in acute emergency situations.
Tuberculosis, a highly infectious disease spread from person to person through the air, can move quickly in close quarters like a crowded refugee camp. Stopping TB is necessary, not only to protect refugees immediately at risk, and also to free up critical resources within refugee settings to treat basic illnesses, which are chronic in emergency situations like the Syria crisis. Since the outbreak of the conflict, more than 4 million Syrians have sought shelter in neighboring countries, mostly in overcrowded camps like Zaatari and in informal settlements with no or limited access to health services. Infectious diseases such as TB are increasing the burden on already overstretched public health systems.
“To defeat these diseases we must follow the people wherever they are, regardless of their status, circumstance, or ethnic and religious background," said Mark Dybul, Executive Director of the Global Fund. “Partnerships like this give us the flexibility to respond quickly and better serve the people in need.”
Global Fund grants in the region are funding interventions that include TB diagnostics and treatment, screening of refugees upon arrival, strengthening referral services, training of health workers and raising awareness of the disease. The International Organization for Migration is implementing the programs in collaboration with WHO and the National Tuberculosis Programs of Jordan and Lebanon.
Since the program started, there have been more than 400 confirmed cases of TB in Jordan and Lebanon and four cases of multidrug-resistant TB in Jordan (according to 2014 data, the latest available), and the success rate of TB treatment among Syrian refugees is 90 percent. The Global Fund is extending emergency interventions in Lebanon and Jordan, and providing funding for TB services for Syrian refugees in Iraq.
The Zaatari camp now houses 79,000 refugees. Like most refugees, Abd Al Gader’s family first moved into tents, later replaced by prefabricated shelters. The father has built a kitchen and bathrooms, but dreams of returning to Syria one day. Abd Al Gader’s cough is now gone, but needs to pause to catch his breath when he plays football. When asked what he wants to do when he grows up, his eyes light up: “I want to be a football player for Barcelona FC.” He pauses, then adds: “Or maybe an architect and rebuild Syria.”