This report was written by Dr. Rania Habal who participated in both the March and June missions. She is reporting back to donors who supplied medications she took with her in March.
More than 35 US physicians, pharmacists and humanitarians, including teachers and social workers joined in. We had 2 neurosurgeons – Harvard and University of Texas Faculty. One orthopedic physician, associate professor of orthopedic surgery, 2 cardiologists, one pediatrician, 2 emergency physicians, etc. The mission consisted of visits to and work at multiple sites:
- Dar-al-salaam Hospital in Amman had a number of trauma inpatients, orthopedic cases, brain injury and spinal injury cases that required repair.
- Spinal Cord Injury Center: an apartment that was transformed into a rehab center for people with spinal cord injury: The conditions were abysmal, depressing – for the patient and the care-taker. The patients, all younger than 25, paralyzed from chest down by sniper bullets.
- Clinics at al-Mafraq and Irbid: these are Jordanian towns that are close to the border with Syria. They have had an influx of Syrian refugees with nothing but what they were wearing when they fled.
- Clinics at al-Zaatari camp.
We were bused daily from Amman to the clinics. 40-50 miles away from where we were staying.
Al-Mafraq and Irbid are small towns with very few resources. The clinics were conducted in people’s homes and “under the radar”. Jordan has strict rules on medical work and the dispensing of medications within Jordan . A physician must be licensed in Jordan to practice medicine. The US license is not accepted. The government also has strict rules about dispensing medications to patients. To circumvent the rules, we had to have a volunteer Jordanian physician with us in every clinic so we can work under his/her license. Anyone would do, as long as they had a Jordanian license. As to the medicines, well, we had to conceal them. But good news! We used them and prescribed them all. Thanks to your donations, we were able to give a full course of medicines for all kinds of illnesses!!! In many cases, we actually cured the condition!!! Can’t beat that!!!
As to al-Zaatari Refugee camp, it is an overwhelmingly sad place. It is where God’s forgotten people go!!! 150K+ people in a camp designed for 60K people. The tents are on top of each other. Dirt, dust, poor sanitary conditions, poor water supply, poor security. 150K+ people of all walks of life, left to fend for themselves. Children in the streets, opportunists, insects, snakes, fires, excrement, rapes, robbery, fights, etc. are rampant. The Shabbiha are apparently also there!!! They were sent to terrorize the population even further.
People arriving to al-Zaatari surrender their ID cards to the Jordanian government, or show up with no paperwork. Each refugee is given a number. He/she becomes nameless. There are gates and check-points everywhere. Once there, the refugee is unable to leave unless sponsored by a Jordanian, even to go back to Syria. In essence, it is a prison. And unfortunately, the conditions within the camp are getting so bad, that some of the refugees just want to go back to Syria and face the bombs and torture by the government forces, rather than be prisoners in another country.
Medical care somehow becomes politicized despite the disaster. The Italians don’t want to work with the French, the French don’t want to work with the Brits, etc. A number of field hospitals were up and running within the camp. The French/Moroccan medical unit functioned as a hospital with some capabilities, whereas all other clinics, including the ones we worked at, were primary care clinics. In those clinics, the resources were extremely limited. For example, the orthopedic clinic was allowed only 4 xrays for the day!!! Can you believe it? Additionally, we were not allowed to give out medicines. We could not even give out Vaseline or water – for fear that anything out of the ordinary may cause a riot.
There is so much need, there is so much sadness. Not one day went by without crying with and for the refugees. Many of us felt so overwhelmed and inept. But somehow, we all got up in the morning and drove 40-60 miles just to be there. To listen to the refugees’ hearts; to cry for their pain; to smile when they smiled, to hope that it will all end soon!!! Until this happens, I cannot imagine staying back in my comfortable chair in NYC. So I have signed up for the next mission on June 14.
Thank you again for all your support! And you will see me again soon!
Rania Habal, MD