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Doctors treating refugees in Amman relive war horrors

Sarwat Nasir/Dubai
Filed on March 13, 2019 | Last updated on March 13, 2019 at 10.22 pm
A Yemeni family that received treatment at Amman Hospital in Jordan.
A Yemeni family that received treatment at Amman Hospital in Jordan.

The MSF (Medecins Sans Frontieres) has treated thousands of patients from Iraq, Syria, Palestine and Yemen at their Amman Hospital in Jordan.

Even if wars in some Middle Eastern countries seem to be over, innocent civilians are the ones left paying the hefty price - often with their life and health. And Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) or Doctors Without Borders considers one of their projects in Jordan "a sad testimony of the troubles" brought about by conflict.

The MSF has treated thousands of patients from Iraq, Syria, Palestine and Yemen at their Amman Hospital in Jordan.

Speaking to Khaleej Times on the sidelines of the Dubai International Humanitarian Aid and Development Conference and Exhibition (Dihad), the executive director of the organisation, Mario Stephan, said the hospital has played a crucial role in treating patients who require immediate attention due to war injuries.

Since its inception in 2006, the hospital has treated 4,745 patients and performed 11,100 surgeries - mainly maxillofacial and orthopaedic surgeries. These are often required by patients who were living in war zones and became victims of bomb explosions, bullet and shrapnel wounds and severe burns.

"Our reconstructive surgery project in Amman, which we currently call the Amman Hospital, is a project that has grown to become a sad testimony of the troubles we see in the region, unfortunately," Stephan said.

One of the many examples is a Yemeni family - whose children were one to two years old at that time - who suffered severe burns after a gas pipe in their house exploded due to an armed conflict in their neighbourhood in 2008.

The children, Wissam and Ridha, have undergone 18 surgeries at the MSF hospital in Amman and have many more to go.

At the hospital, 63 per cent of patients are from Iraq, 24 per cent are Syrian, 11 per cent are from Yemen, and one per cent are from other countries.

"It's always a challenge to get anybody outside of a war zone, let alone a patient that's more vulnerable and has difficulties in getting out. Getting a patient to Amman was never the issue, the issue was making sure that we collect the right paperwork on time and that the patient is given the appropriate transportation given the state they're in. The MSF is sadly used to hurdles like that and we're able to address them satisfactorily," Stephan said.

Speaking about the conflict in Yemen, specifically, Stephan said they have treated approximately 80,000 patients in the country since 2015. "We have a very wide operation in Yemen. Doctors Without Borders covers the entirety of the country. It's quite a challenging conflict to intervene in, but it's something we've sadly learned to master throughout the years and it's an intervention that's quite important," he said.

"We are neutral and impartial and we reach out to all parties of the conflict to guarantee access to our patients and to the area in need and ensure the safety of our staff and patients. This is what allows us to overcome hurdles."

Dealing with the Rohingya crisis

Besides helping patients in the Middle East, the Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) has had a strong presence in Bangladesh long before the Rohingya crisis grew exponentially in 2017.

Hundreds of thousands of Rohingyas fled persecution in Myanmar and crossed the border into Bangladesh.

"Rohingya communities had sought refuge a long time ago. What we saw starting in August 2017 was that numbers between 500,000 and 700,000 people are pouring through the border in a state of high vulnerability and the camps are becoming something completely different. Our first concerns in Bangladesh were the monsoon season. With heavy rainfall and stagnant water in a precarious setting, such as a camp, disease can spread quite easily ­- water-borne diseases and mosquitoes," said Mario Stephan, executive director of MSF, said.

"Secondly, it's important to keep in mind that people might come seeking care resulting from injuries they have sustained while fleeing the country or as they were crossing, but people also get cut from healthcare. They could have conditions such as diabetes, hypertension. These diseases, for people like you and me, are treatable. But if left untreated, these can develop into serious complications and can sometimes lead to death."

The MSF has built a hospital on the Kutupalong refugee camp in Bangladesh's Cox Bazaar. "We also have health surveillance activities. We have mobile clinics to be able to let the communities know we are there to help and to also identify cases that won't necessarily make it to the points of care," Stephan added.

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