Since armed unrest erupted more than four years ago in Syria, resulting in huge movements of the population inside the country and spilling into neighboring countries, WHO has taken a lead role – one that continues in the face of crippling funding shortfalls - to support the displaced.
A child receives polio vaccine in a refugee camp, Al-Hassake, in the Syrian Arab Republic. Photo courtesy of WHO
Since armed unrest erupted more than four years ago in Syria, resulting in huge movements of the population inside the country and spilling into neighboring countries, WHO has taken a lead role – one that continues in the face of crippling funding shortfalls -- to support the displaced.
WHO staff have been working to ensure that:
- life-saving medicines and medical supplies reach Syrians and the region’s host populations and governments;
- technical assistance is given to the region’s ministries of health, with health care workers being trained;
- mass vaccination campaigns are supported; and
- the ability to monitor outbreaks of communicable diseases is boosted.
The numbers are overwhelming: Inside Syria, the conflict, now a civil war – has left 12.2 million people in need of humanitarian assistance, with more than 7.6 million of them internally displaced, according to UNHCR.
More than 4 million Syrians are registered as refugees and are living outside their country, the refugee agency has reported. The 1.1 million Syrians now living in Lebanon represent a third of that country’s population. In Jordan, some 600 000 Syrians have found refuge.
“The magnitude of needs continues to escalate,” says Dr. Nada Al Ward, coordinator of WHO’s Emergency Support Team based in Amman. “More than four years on and we’re seeing the same urgent health needs we saw in 2011, but on a much larger scale – trauma cases, severe mental health needs, communicable and non-communicable diseases, reproductive health issues. More needs to be responded to, despite the challenges.”
Though intense fighting and shifting zones of conflict have hindered the ability of health workers to reach some areas, WHO has nevertheless enabled the medical treatment of more than 13.8 million people this year across Syria. Those efforts have included the provision of medical care and life-saving equipment and supplies to such hard-to-reach areas as Aleppo, Ar- Raqqah, Dara’a, Deir ez-Zor and Idleb.
Services provided have included medical consultations, trauma management and general surgeries, regular and caesarean deliveries, eye surgeries, heart catheterization and X-ray and laboratory services through WHO mobile clinics.
WHO cross-border activities from hubs in Turkey and Jordan have increased the organization’s assistance to populations in need in Syria.
“Cross-border activities complement WHO efforts inside Syria and target vulnerable communities in the north and south of the country,” says Ward. “Through this mechanism and UN interagency convoys, we are able to reach even more Syrians in need.”
WHO has also been supporting the ministries of health of Jordan and Lebanon to ensure adequate and equitable healthcare service provision for both Syrian refugees and their host communities. This year, more than 700,000 Syrians were provided with healthcare consultations in Lebanon. In the first six months of 2015, more than 34,000 Syrian children in Jordan were vaccinated against polio and measles, and more than 46,000 Syrians received secondary mental health care consultations. WHO continues to support the provision of medications to treat non-communicable diseases such as cancer, diabetes and hypertension – diseases that represent a major burden of illness for Syrians.
In each of these countries, WHO coordinates health partner actions and addresses needs and gaps in areas that include reproductive health, disease surveillance, and health worker technical capacity.
With the conflict in Syria showing no sign of abating, it is unclear how long the emergency health response will be needed in the Middle East. Funds, however, are not keeping pace with the growing needs, and the health sector, drastically underfunded, is struggling to keep health systems from collapsing. The health component of the 2015 Syria response plan (SRP) is only 30 percent funded, while the health component in the regional refugee and resilience plan (3RP) is only 17 percent funded.
“It is imperative that the health sector in this region is adequately funded to ensure refugee and host population needs are catered to,” says Ward. “Migration into Europe may alleviate some of the burden on these countries, but not much. The international community must continue to support the countries doing the heavy lifting.”