By Patrick Wells
Illness runs rampant among Syrian children sheltering at Bab al Salama camp, along the Turkish border. But the medical care available cannot keep pace.
BAB AL SALAMA, Syrian Arab Republic, 28 March 2013 – In Bab al Salama camp, Khola Bakkor sits quietly in the tent her family have sheltered in for seven long months.
This mud-spattered camp, wedged against the Turkish border in the northern part of the Syrian Arab Republic, is home to 12,000 people, including some 7,000 children, according to camp doctors and administrators.
Ms. Bakkor’s 14-year-old daughter Waffa suffers from growth hormone deficiency. Her medication was destroyed when their house in Aleppo was bombed. Now, Ms. Bakkor can’t find the drugs her daughter needs, meaning the girl hasn’t been growing properly for the past seven months.
“The doctors said it won’t affect her brain, but, as she grows older, her body will stay small,” says Ms. Bakkor, clutching an empty vial of the drug, Somatropin, the last the family had.
Waffa is one of thousands of Syrian refugee children who aren’t getting enough medical care for illnesses and ongoing conditions.
Illness rampant, medical care insufficient
In a plastic portacabin on the other side of the camp, Dr. Baraa al Nasser bandages the broken arm of a tearful young boy. Dr. Nasser says that, in addition to the lack of medication, poor sanitation, insufficient washing facilities and overcrowding are having a terrible effect on the health of the children. Between five and ten children sleep in each tent.
“The main problem for the children in the camp…is, maybe, dermatological problems. Maybe Leishmania scabies, fungal infection, because there are no good baths, no water sanitation, no health education, also,” he says.
On average, children are sick for a staggering 10 days out of each month.
Dr. Nasser adds that there is widespread bedwetting in the camp among children as old as 15 – to him, a symptom of deep psychological trauma.
“You can imagine if you are 5 years old and you hear this big amount of explosions, rockets, bullets, it makes you have fear,” he explains. “The sound of airplanes now for children is very invasive. If you hear airplanes now, all the children will run away to Turkish border, ok? They are afraid.”
There is a school, but camp authorities say that only 40 per cent of the children are mentally and physically well enough to attend.
Urgent need for assistance
While conditions in the camps around the region are tough, inside the Syrian Arab Republic, itself, the intensifying conflict is causing a humanitarian crisis of ever-expanding proportions. According to United Nations estimates, at least four million people in the Syrian Arab Republic are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance. At least half of them are children.
As the violence continues, these numbers could get much higher – and the needs grow daily.
UNICEF and partners are providing humanitarian assistance to different parts of the country, but more access is needed to reach all those in need.
Working with partners, UNICEF has provided four million people with access to drinking and domestic water in the Syrian Arab Republic. 1.3 million children have been vaccinated against measles, and more than 75,000 children have been enrolled in learning programmes.
But, lack of funds is severely hampering the aid effort. UNICEF has received only 20 per cent of the funds it needs. Without this money, it will be difficult to reach out further to Syrian children and families, and some life-saving activities will have to stop.