Learn more about volunteering with the Syrian American Medical Society
8 May 2018
In 2017 the Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS) asked the ILDS to promote their next medical mission to Jordan. As a result of this, Valeska Padovese (a member of European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology, Maltese Association of Dermatology & Venereology and Board Member of the International Union against Sexually Transmitted Infections), joined the April 2018 mission to support Syrian refugees and other vulnerable local people in Jordan.
We are pleased to share with you Valeska’s account of her time with SAMS.
The Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS) is a non-political, non-profit medical relief organisation that is working on the front lines of crisis relief in Syria and neighbouring countries to alleviate suffering and save lives. From 30 March – 5 April, I participated to a SAMS medical mission to Jordan, with 53 other health professionals of different specialities from five continents. The mission provided free medical services to Syrian refugees and other vulnerable populations.
According to UNHCR there are 660,000 Syrian refugees displaced in Jordan. Al Za’atari Camp is the second largest refugee camp in the world. 80,000 refugees reside in the camp’s 12 districts, spanning 5.3 kilometres squared. It is the equivalent of Jordan’s fourth largest city. Over half of the camp’s population is under 24 years of age, with 20% of the population being under five.
SAMS supports the largest multi-specialty clinic in the camp, providing internal medicine, paediatric care, surgery, obstetric and gynaecological services, dermatology, ear/nose/throat services, ophthalmology, dental care and physiotherapy. Throughout our six-day multi-specialty medical mission, we treated more than 4,300 patients and provided over 200 surgical procedures. Many of the clinics where we provided care are free clinics that support both Syrians and Jordanians. They are located through Jordan, in Amman, Irbid, Mafraq and other areas.
We travelled long distances every day to reach the clinics located on the Syrian border. On arriving hundreds of patients were waiting for us. Beyond treating medical issues, we were there to pass on a message of hope, to hear their stories and to make them feel cared for. This, I believe, was the amazing part of our role. I was there to take care of their skin conditions but most notably of their souls.
During the mission I was always flanked by a translator, a young Jordanian medical student willing to help. This was an opportunity to learn more about Jordan’s health care system and exchange knowledge.
I treated on average 45 patients a day, mainly women and children. Skin diseases were the main cause of concern for refugees and were at the top of the disease burden recorded during the mission. Skin problems I diagnosed were mainly related to the living conditions in the refugee camps, such as environmental dermatitis due to chronic sun and wind exposure, or due to lack of hygiene, primarily scabies and pediculosis in children.
Most of the refugees have been living in Al Za’atari Camp for more than 6 years, initially in tents and then in containers. Winters are extremely cold, summer hot and dry. There are no respite from the sun and children play outdoor in the dust. The health needs of the camp’s population are complex, and access to health care is strained. Refugees face a lack of consistent care for chronic and acute conditions.
Medical care is a basic human right, necessity and unfortunately for some, a privilege.
I strongly encourage the dermatology community to be actively involved in supporting Syrian refugees. Being part of a SAMS mission is the way forward.
For more details about the work of the Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS) please visit their website: https://www.sams-usa.net/