International Rescue Committee (IRC)

Helping Syrian refugees with new health care clinics

At only 13 days old, Ahdad’s* lungs sound painfully healthy to me. As International Rescue Committee doctor Faris Abdullah delicately removes the infant’s diaper, Ahdad wails in heaving bursts as long and as loud as a fire truck siren. Foot and a half long Ahdad has a bad case of diarrhea, and lets it be known he’s not thrilled to be splayed out on an examination table. Dr. Faris adroitly provides a checkup, and then places a now-whimpering Ahdad into the comforting arms of his mother.  They sit; the doctor provides words of reassurance to the mother, and a prescription for Ahdad.

The IRC’s two medical clinics opened without fanfare in northern Jordan in mid-June, with close to 20 doctors, nurses, and administrative staff. The first day, only 10 patients visited. Two weeks later, by the end of June, the average daily number of visits had quintupled to about 50 in total. “The results emphasize the ongoing need,” says IRC emergency response coordinator Tom McNelly. “These are people who crossed the border with nothing but their clothes. They have no money to pay for treatment or medicine — and we supply both, at no cost to them.”

There are a handful of other clinics near the border, but patients tell me they prefer those run by the IRC.  Many Syrians live in fear that Syrian security agents will somehow determine they are in Jordan, and then retaliate against family still in Syria. Because of that, they have an aversion to providing personal information. The IRC attempts to maintain as much patient confidentiality as possible, while ensuring medical records are complete. Patients also point to the IRC’s relationship with nearby pharmacies, which are always well stocked with medicines the IRC pays for.  They complain that other free clinics write prescriptions, but often don’t have enough medication.  

Thirty-four-year-old gynecologist Dr. Faris sees the refugees’ needs daily. A greying, overweight farmer has hypertension and no medicine. A twenty something woman who is four months pregnant is worried because she has the flu. Most of those he sees have common illnesses like upper respiratory and urinary tract infections, or hypertension. But he’s also seen a handful of serious injuries—like gunshot wounds received in Syria. If the injuries or illnesses are severe, the patient will be referred to a Jordanian hospital for treatment. Dr. Faris notes that the non-visible injuries are also telling. “Patients complain of insomnia,” he says. “It’s clearly stress-related. Many are nervous and on edge. It may be due to violence they witnessed or experienced in Syria, and their symptoms are then compounded by the stress of fleeing their homes to Jordan.”

The IRC is planning to provide psychosocial support to women and girls who’ve experienced emotional trauma in Syria. Many have been directly targeted by violence; it’s one reason why women head so many refugee households here. Women and children have left, while husbands have stayed behind.

The IRC is also planning to expand the clinics. Each is now capable of treating up to 45 patients a day. If the current daily increase continues, the IRC’s Tom McNelly believes that limit will be surpassed by the end of July. He’s already looking at providing care for 90 patients per clinic, per day.

*names have been changed for privacy reasons

Learn More

IRC Special Report: Syria Crisis

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