Desperate needs of Syrian refugees

Hello to all readers. Here is an update about the goings on here in Tripoli, Northern Lebanon, working with the MSF team.

Summer has well and truly arrived in these parts! Temperatures are soaring above thirty five degrees with high levels of humidity and the heat is really taking its toll. I occasionally think nostalgically of the miserable Irish weather. But these moments don’t last long!

We remain extremely busy in the clinics here. As the war in Syria continues, more and more refugees are arriving in Tripoli and the surrounding areas. Those who arrive have huge medical and social needs. Their stories are routinely shocking, and often inconceivable.

A family in dire need

Abdel is a fifty-year-old man from Syria with a long medical history. He suffers with heart disease and had major cardiac surgery two years previously. He also has poorly controlled diabetes, high blood pressure and obstructive lung disease. He first arrived at our clinics in March 2013. He came accompanied by his wife. She is now his carer. Abdel was in such poor health that he could not make the trip to the clinic alone.

His health deteriorated dramatically over the past two years since the war in Syria began and he was no longer able to access proper medical care. His state now is a far cry from what he describes as his life two years previously, when he worked independently as a photographer and supported his wife and three children. He was examined and treated by the MSF medical team in Dar al Zahraa clinic. We were able to provide him with the anti-hypertensive and diabetes medication which he urgently needed.

Abdel’s wife, who looked exhausted and stressed, became tearful while speaking to the MSF nurses. She opened up about the difficulties they were experiencing. The couple fled Syria for refuge in Lebanon with their three sons aged eight, thirteen and twenty-one. The oldest and the middle son both have intellectual disabilities. The oldest son, Wael, suffers with frequent epileptic seizures and he has episodes of severe behavioural disturbance, when his parents find him impossible to look after.

Abdel and his wife travelled a long, arduous journey to the MSF clinic from a rural area in Northern Lebanon where they now live. We decided to arrange a home visit for the family, to properly assess their health needs and living situation. They live together in two small and basic rooms, with inadequate furnishings and poor ventilation. MSF was able to help the family by providing medical care for Wael, the oldest son. Our social worker also made contact with other NGOs in the area who could provide food and financial support for the family, and connect them with local social support services which they desperately needed.

MSF Syria Lebanon

This Syrian refugee (not Adbel in the story above) is having his blood pressure taken in the MSF nursing triage room in Dar al Zahraa hospital.. He is treated for hypertension as part of MSF's chronic disease programme. He came with his wife and their son, who has a cough and fever. Consent was given by the family for this photograph to be used. Tripoli, Lebanon © Aoife Doran/MSF

Mahmood’s Story

Families arriving from Syria have huge social and financial needs. Another category of victims in this tragic, relentless war are the young men who arrive alone. Many of them have been caught up in violence and fled to Lebanon in fear of their lives. They come seeking refuge and often require urgent medical attention. One such man is Mahmood, a young energetic twenty five year-old, who lived a normal active life in Syria until he became caught up in the fighting.

Mahmood was shot in the leg and his femur bone was shattered as a result. He was brought to hospital in Syria, where he was told he would need extensive work, including wound exploration and major surgery. Shortly after his admission, the hospital and surrounding areas came under attack. The hospital was immediately shut down and patients were evacuated. Luckily, Mahmood managed to secure a safe passage to Lebanon. He did not manage to get the medical care he needed and could only walk when supported by a frame. He sought shelter in Tripoli and managed to find a small room to rent in a dilapidated building in town. He began selling nuts and bolts on the streets in order to earn some money.

In severe pain and unable to walk properly, he arrived at the doors of Tripoli Governmental Hospital. He was examined in the Emergency Department. His condition had deteriorated significantly. Infection had spread through the bone and soft tissues of his leg and he required urgent surgical intervention.

MSF arranged for him to be admitted to hospital to have the necessary treatment he required. When Mahmood spoke to the MSF social worker, he broke down in tears. This was the first time he cried since the shooting in Syria.

He spoke about home and mainly about his concerns for his mother, who was still living there, amidst the ongoing violence. He spoke about his brother, who was being held captive by militants somewhere in Syria. No-one has heard from him in months. Mahmood told us that when he gets out of hospital, he will go back to selling nuts and bolts on the streets of Tripoli. This is as far as he can plan or hope, as the future is so uncertain for him. What is certain is the fact that he will need immense psychological and medical support after his initial treatment in hospital, and MSF will endeavour to provide this for him.

MSF Syria Lebanon

Myself (on the right) and the MSF nursing team at Dar al Zahraa hospital, Tripoli, Lebanon. ©MSF