Prevention, cure and support in Syria’s health centres

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By Raefah Makki, IFRC

It is Sunday morning in al-Akram, the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC) health center in Mezzeh, Damascus. Doctors and nurses are getting ready for their shift, and since early morning patients have gathered, waiting their turn. These are people who have lost their homes and livelihoods, and are now seeking help for their health problems.

Almost two years on, the situation in Syria is critical: people have lost their homes; the health care situation is desperate and food shortages are becoming more common.

Al Akram health centre includes 15 clinics with different services and specialist doctors in addition to a laboratory and radiology department, and facilities for minor surgery. SARC has more than 20 medical centers across the country. Some of these provide dialysis.

Raneem, a 9-year-old girl, has come to the clinic with her parents and twin brother Qusai. She suffers from growth hormone deficiency. Raneem’s mother says: “We always come to this center to receive free treatment, this center is providing me and my eight children with all the medical services we need. All the tests, x-ray and medicines needed for Raneem. We could never afford the treatment costs.”

Raneem’s father, sitting next to his family, adds: “SARC is not only providing medical care for us. The organization offers a range of services and humanitarian aid to all the affected families who fled Homs. Food, blankets, hygiene kits, SARC was there to help us as we were moving from one place to another.”

This family fled Homs in March 2012 to the Damascus suburbs, but due to the continuing violence in the area, they were forced to move again to another district, 10km away from the capital Damascus.

Dr. Hazem Bakleh, SARC Medical Services Director and the Director of Al Akram Center, says the organization was operating two shifts at dispensaries and clinics, but that it was working beyond its technical capacities. “Our big challenge is to meet the people needs during such circumstances,” he says. “We depend on our local markets to provide medicines, and as a result of shutting down several pharmaceutical factories, we are facing some medicine shortages.

“Most people are suffering from chronic diseases such as diabetes and high blood pressure, but also there are cases of acute diseases such as pharyngitis. In some cities we have witnessed hepatitis A and scabies as a result of water shortages.

Since the beginning of the conflict, SARC has provided emergency medical care, ambulance services and first aid for tens of thousands of people. In many areas, it is the sole ambulance provider. Primary health care is provided throughout the country from basic health centers and mobile health units.

Since 2008, IFRC has supported SARC health centersin: Damascus, Dara’a, Homs, Tadmur/Palmyra; Raqqa, Menbej, Qamishly, Hassakeh and Al Bokamal. These health centers served in 2012 more than 100,000 patients. In addition, IFRC has provided SARC with medicine for chronic and acute diseases and, with support from ECHO, Canadian Red Cross through CIDA funds and partner National Societies, with emergency medicine and surgical kits, to the benefit 250,000 persons.