Maintaining access to quality, affordable healthcare amidst the economic crisis in SyriaPublished: Apr 12, 2022 Reading time: 4 minutes
Do you remember the last time you felt really sick? It is hardly the moment you want to stand in line with hundreds of other people, crying children, and soaring temperatures of up to 50 degrees Celsius with no access to a bathroom.
But such a scenario remains all too common in northern Syria, where healthcare clinics are overcrowded with poor sanitary conditions and limited measures to ensure patient privacy. PIN’s work in northern Syria now includes regular cooperation with local health ministries to rehabilitate health centres, ensuring thousands of the most vulnerable Syrians can access healthcare in dignified conditions.
“In the past, the pediatric and nutrition clinics were in the same room. The gynecological and childbirth clinics were also united, so there was no privacy, and patients felt very uncomfortable. Now it is much more spacious than before. Each clinic is placed in a separate room, and we have new bathrooms for patients,” said Rokan, a team leader of the Kurdish Red Crescent and one of 44 staff members working at the centre.
The health centre resembles a small hospital with several clinics, such as maternity, gynecology, pediatrics, a pharmacy, and a laboratory for medical analysis. Rokan and his colleagues take care of 200-250 people every day, depending on the season.
“With this center, we have shortened the distance and saved money.”
While the conflict across northern Syria has reached a stalemate, the biggest challenge to most Syrians remains making ends meet in a collapsed war economy characterized by soaring prices and a stagnant job market. In terms of healthcare, most people can’t afford private clinics, while public facilities are often too far away and oversubscribed. Moreover, given the poor provision of public transportation, people who don´t have a car, pregnant women, the elderly, and women with small children often have to walk for days to get help. Such used to be the case for Ibtisam, a young mother of three, who now comes to the newly rehabilitated clinic.
“The living conditions are appalling. Prices have increased and sometimes we struggle to feed our children. My husband works a lot to ensure some income for our family and provide us with our basic needs. He goes to work before sunrise and comes back at night, so the children rarely see him,” said Ibtisam. “Now, all the people I know come here to the health center and benefit from the services. All the villages surrounding the area depend mainly on the services provided here.”
According to Rokan, the war brought many challenges to health services. Many health centers were damaged, and some of them have been destroyed. The increasing prices of medical supplies are a key factor driving people to public clinics.
“In private clinics, the cost of the simplest prescription is about 20,000 Syrian pounds (approx. 8 USD), the cost of childbirth is about 200,000 Syrian pounds (approx. 80 USD), and the cost of a cesarean section is about 600,000 Syrian pounds (approx. 244 USD). Simple medical tests cost from 5,000 (approx. 2 USD) to 10,000 (approx. 4 USD) Syrian pounds. Life conditions became tough. But in our center, services are free, including medicine and tests. In addition to many new diseases, those already overcome have reappeared again. For example, polio,” said Rokan.
We also spoke to Shamsa, 49, who accompanied her sickly neighbor to the healthcare centre. “She used to have some minor health problems, but she suddenly lost consciousness today without knowing the reason. So we quickly brought her here to the health center, where they did all the necessary medical examinations and tests to find out the cause. We know the diagnosis now, so we will stop by the pharmacy here and take her home,” said Shamsa.
Shamsa was greeted at the pharmacy by Mahmoud, a young pharmacist.
“We did not have a drug store in the past, but now after the rehabilitation, we have a special room to store medicines,” said Mahmoud. He remembers many occasions upon which his colleagues helped people in severe conditions, especially those concerning pregnant women. He shared the most recent one: “A pregnant woman who had undergone a Cesarean section in the past came to the center. In such a case, she should have been transferred to the hospital because a Cesarean section can cause serious problems when a woman gives birth traditionally following subsequent pregnancies. But this woman came too late and was very tired. There was not enough time to transfer her to the hospital. Our medical team here was able to help her without any consequences in the renovated clinics with the necessary supplies,” Mahmoud said.
Thanks to the generous support of the USAID Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance, PIN has improved healthcare access for tens of thousands of people in northern Syria through healthcare centre renovations and the installation of sanitation facilities.