Despite the Syrian authorities' refusal to allow independent humanitarian organisations to intervene on its territory, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) decided in late June to intervene directly in Syria to assist the vulnerable and set up a medical programme.
The Syrian war is one of extreme violence. It strongly affects the civilian population and the destruction of medical facilities is considered a weapon of war. Luxembourg nurse Myriam Welliong has recently returned from a mission in Syria.
Myriam Welliong is an anesthetist nurse and is currently working at CHEM, the Centre Hospitalier Emile Mayrisch in Esch-sur-Alzette in the Anesthesia Service. Her mission in Syria is as a nurse in the operating room, the surgeon's assistant, was from 16 November to 18 December 2012, his third mission for MSF, after Congo in 2007 and Haiti in 2010.
Worsening living conditions
Caring for people has become very difficult in Syria, because the supply of medicines and medical equipment is simply not possible from Damascus and routes from neighbouring countries are very limited due to insecurity, difficulties in crossing borders and distances to access health facilities.
As the war intensifies and the attacks against health facilities continue, more and more people are refusing to seek treatment in hospitals for fear of air raids, and seek refuge in underground medical facilities instead.
Soaring prices of staples such as bread, wood and clothing alter the lives of these people. More than 2.5 million people were displaced within the country. The number of Syrians seeking refuge in neighbouring countries is increasing and totals more than 500,000 to date, while the humanitarian response has been unable to meet their needs. Winter conditions only aggravate the difficult living conditions of the Syrian refugees and the rest of the population in the country.
In the north and north-west of Syria, MSF has opened three underground hospitals located in areas controlled by the opposition and also continues to urge the Syrian government, unsuccessfully so far, to be able access areas under its control in order to provide such care. Since June, over 10,000 patients have received medical care in three illegal hospitals, including war injuries, such as gunshot wounds, shrapnel, open fractures and injuries due to explosions. More than 900 surgeries were performed.
"It's really hard to accept that human beings do this to other humans"
Myriam Welliong worked in one of these hospitals and said "I was a nurse in the operating room, that is to say that I attended the surgeon, I helped with anesthesia, I was busy in the sterilisation of equipment needed for operations, etc.. And I also did the work plan of our colleagues, Syrian nationals employed by MSF, and many other things that I don't doing in my daiyl routine in Luxembourg. Civilians knew we were there, although we could not identify ourselves, they came for all kinds of consultations, from mundane to emergency care related to the context of war."
For months, the region suffers almost daily from bombings. While many communities are empty of inhabitants, those survived remain in fear of barrels of explosives dropped by helicopters of the Syrian army. "The loyalist soldiers fill large barrels with whatever they find: nails, screws, metal, leftover motorcycles and add some explosive charges. They cast off a helicopter on civilians, homes, sometimes in an area very close to the hospital. Where the barrels explode, shrapnel flyies in all directions and wounds, maims people, women, children, without distinction. After we had to treat all those who were injured by the shrapnel. At one point, I was so tired and disgusted by the suffering of the Syrian people that these acts of barbarism gave me nausea. Dropping the barrels from a helicopter is really wanting to hurt people that suffer. It's really hard to accept that human beings do this to other humans," said Myriam Welliong.
The hospital in which Myriam Welliong worked in the north was closed at the end of its mission for security reasons. "Starting the closure of the hospital saddened me. Leaving people to their fate is very difficult. But the work with the resources we had was good. War surgeons I attended were very experienced. Their ability to provide quality care in this context is impressive: they know everything, amputate a leg, tend to the elderly and children, perform caesarean sections, etc." said Myriam Welliong. Five days later, the hospital reopened and now hosts an average of 500 patients a week.
Over the course of the conflict, the activities in MSF hospitals fluctuate, primarily in terms of opportunities for patients to access health facilities. Admissions are irregular, depending on the shifting front lines and the ability to refer the injured to hospitals.
Universal access to health services remains very limited for people, especially for people with chronic diseases. A significant number of patients treated by MSF need medication to treat their chronic illness, trauma or assistance to give birth. The longer the conflict progresses, MSF found that health needs are not all related to violent trauma.
MSF is particularly concerned about the plight of displaced people inside Syria. Access to a large part of Syria remains extremely difficult and prevents the large-scale deployment of humanitarian aid for 2.5 million people who have been displaced within the country. In neighbouring countries such as Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and Iraq, MSF teams also work with Syrian refugees through medical and surgical programmes.
This article was published in Chronicle.lu