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Treating Patients and Refugees from Syrian Crisis

by Doctors Without Borders
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Treating Patients and Refugees from Syrian Crisis
Treating Patients and Refugees from Syrian Crisis
Treating Patients and Refugees from Syrian Crisis

Dear friend,

Thank you so much for your support of our Global Giving project Treating Patients and Refugees from Syrian Crisis. 

We have closed this Global Giving project, but we encourage you to look at our project Doctors Without Borders Emergency Relief Fund, which supports neglected crises around the world.  The Emergency Relief Fund (ERF) enables MSF to launch an emergency program based entirely on the needs of the people caught in crisis. MSF programs supported by the ERF serve victims of natural and man-made disasters where little to no healthcare services are available.  The ERF allocates funds to help MSF teams respond to emergencies around the world, whether or not they attract attention from the media or garner contributions from donors. By supporting the ERF, you will help our teams respond as quickly as possible when disaster strikes.

Thank you again for your support, we truly appreciate it.

Warm wishes,

Kat Read

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Syria 2013  Mario Travaini
Syria 2013 Mario Travaini

“I was the only midwife on the day Sedra’s* mother came to MSF’s hospital in Syria,” says Amanda Godballe, a Danish midwife working with Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) at one of its projects inside Syria.

“She was only six months pregnant, but the delivery had already begun,” Godballe continues. “She was expecting her first children, two twin girls. There was no way to stop the delivery as it was already too far along.”

Given the ongoing security and supply issues inside Syria, it’s proven extremely difficult to find or bring in all the equipment teams would live to have, or even that most Syrian hospitals had on hand before the war started. “In our hospital we had very limited possibilities of taking care of premature babies,” says Godballe. “We had no pediatricians, incubators, or medicine to treat babies this premature. And as I was the only midwife at the hospital that day I had to do some creative thinking, especially because I knew that the children were likely to need resuscitation to stabilize them enough to be transferred to a more fully equipped hospital over the border, where treatment was possible.”

So, she says, “I got my Belgian co-worker and nurse to help me in the delivery room, although she had never assisted with a delivery before. But inexperienced hands are better than no hands! At the same time I had my good Syrian colleague to help me and also an interpreter.”

“Both children were quickly born. First Sedra and then her sister. They each weighed about 1,200 grams [not quite 3 pounds]. Sedra was reasonably well stabilized with the help of an oxygen mask and an electric radiator to keep her warm. Unfortunately, her sister did not do as well. She died only 30 minutes old.”

Sedra, though, made it through those first few fraught moments. “Sedra was transferred to the border, in one of MSF’s ambulances, along with her mother. And there I was, in the backseat of an ambulance with a teeny tiny vulnerable human being, who had so many odds stacked against her. At the border we had to wait, and when the medics finally came I had to hand them the small bundle across the barbed wire fence, drive back to our makeshift hospital, and hope for the best.”

Later, an MSF logistician, Mario Travaini, who was working in the same makeshift hospital in Syria met Sedra and her mother when they visited the hospital to get Sedra’s birth certificate and thank the staff. The little girl had survived and was now in stable health.

“It is touching to hear how they have done afterward,” says Godballe, who is now back in Denmark. “Sedra is doing well despite her hard beginning, which was followed by 24 days in an incubator. It is experiences of this kind that give you a sense of purpose. I can only do what I can with the limited resources available to me, but even that makes a difference.”

*name changed

“I was the only midwife on the day Sedra’s* mother came to MSF’s hospital in Syria,” says Amanda Godballe, a Danish midwife working with Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) at one of its projects inside Syria.

“She was only six months pregnant, but the delivery had already begun,” Godballe continues. “She was expecting her first children, two twin girls. There was no way to stop the delivery as it was already too far along.”

Given the ongoing security and supply issues inside Syria, it’s proven extremely difficult to find or bring in all the equipment teams would live to have, or even that most Syrian hospitals had on hand before the war started. “In our hospital we had very limited possibilities of taking care of premature babies,” says Godballe. “We had no pediatricians, incubators, or medicine to treat babies this premature. And as I was the only midwife at the hospital that day I had to do some creative thinking, especially because I knew that the children were likely to need resuscitation to stabilize them enough to be transferred to a more fully equipped hospital over the border, where treatment was possible.”

So, she says, “I got my Belgian co-worker and nurse to help me in the delivery room, although she had never assisted with a delivery before. But inexperienced hands are better than no hands! At the same time I had my good Syrian colleague to help me and also an interpreter.”

“Both children were quickly born. First Sedra and then her sister. They each weighed about 1,200 grams [not quite 3 pounds]. Sedra was reasonably well stabilized with the help of an oxygen mask and an electric radiator to keep her warm. Unfortunately, her sister did not do as well. She died only 30 minutes old.”

Sedra, though, made it through those first few fraught moments. “Sedra was transferred to the border, in one of MSF’s ambulances, along with her mother. And there I was, in the backseat of an ambulance with a teeny tiny vulnerable human being, who had so many odds stacked against her. At the border we had to wait, and when the medics finally came I had to hand them the small bundle across the barbed wire fence, drive back to our makeshift hospital, and hope for the best.”

Later, an MSF logistician, Mario Travaini, who was working in the same makeshift hospital in Syria met Sedra and her mother when they visited the hospital to get Sedra’s birth certificate and thank the staff. The little girl had survived and was now in stable health.

“It is touching to hear how they have done afterward,” says Godballe, who is now back in Denmark. “Sedra is doing well despite her hard beginning, which was followed by 24 days in an incubator. It is experiences of this kind that give you a sense of purpose. I can only do what I can with the limited resources available to me, but even that makes a difference.”

*name changed

- See more at: http://www.doctorswithoutborders.org/news/article.cfm?id=7182&cat=voice-from-the-field#sthash.4RcS9yf6.dpuf
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Syria 2013  Cathy Janssens/MSF
Syria 2013 Cathy Janssens/MSF

We truly appreciate your support of our programs.  I wanted to send along this recent interview with a midwife at one of our projects in Syria. 

I also wanted to let you know that Wednesday, October 9th is a matching gift day on Global Giving.  There is $25,000 in available matching funds, and any gift you make on that day will be matched 30% by Global Giving as long as funds last!  I hope you’ll take advantage of this opportunity to make your gift go even further.

Thank you so much!

 

Margie is a midwife who recently spent seven weeks working in a Doctors Without Borders/ Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) hospital in northern Syria. The hospital includes an operating theater where staff members treat war wounds and large burn injuries, an emergency department, and the maternity unit where Margie was working.

Why did MSF establish a maternity unit at this hospital?

We set up the maternity unit because women are unable to access adequate health care in this area. For women facing pregnancy complications, it’s practically impossible to get emergency obstetric care. There are still some midwives in the community providing support for normal deliveries, but if complications arise then it becomes problematic to find somewhere to refer.

Some health facilities have been destroyed in the conflict, while those that remain are not functioning adequately. There are some private hospitals but they are beyond the means of many people. There used to be a network of midwives providing antenatal care, but now it seems that many pregnant women don’t get antenatal care at all.

The conflict has also reduced women’s access to good food and many are displaced. All this creates stress that can itself impact on their pregnancy.

What sort of services is the maternity unit providing?

We provide safe delivery services, including emergency obstetric care, and [we] refer patients needing caesareans to the surgical team. Many of the women have had a lot of children, sometimes 10 or 11. And many have previously delivered by caesarean section, which gives you an idea of the standard of health care that was available before the conflict.

The maternity unit also provides antenatal care, including prophylactic treatment during pregnancy—for anemia, for instance—and immediate and follow-up postnatal care. But it’s not just obstetrics that we’re doing: we also offer gynecological services, which are quite difficult for women to access in Syria.

The conflict has reduced the kinds of healthcare available, and because it’s an Islamic context, if some women can’t find a female health care worker, they may not seek care at all.

Probably about half the patients we saw came from surrounding villages. Women would often come in with someone who had previously been to our maternity unit – many had heard of us through word of mouth.

Did you work with local Syrian staff?

Yes, I was working with a wonderful team of four Syrian midwives.

Each week, we delivered up to 12 babies and held around 50 to 60 consultations. My colleagues managed the normal deliveries, but if complications arose then I supported them and worked with them on the medical care required.

They all had varying levels of training and experience, so I was also training and updating the skills of the Syrian midwives. They were very appreciative of the opportunity to learn additional skills because another consequence of the conflict was that for some, their training was interrupted.

Due to the shortage of qualified staff, one of the midwives we recruited had completed her nursing training, but was only part way through her maternity training. She was like a sponge soaking up knowledge: anything I told her she would put into practice. It was inspiring to see that sort of dedication.

Were there any particularly challenging cases?

We assisted with a lot of normal births, but there were some difficult cases.

One example was a woman who had delivered four healthy babies but had then lost a baby at full term. Like many women we saw, she had been displaced by the conflict and was living with her whole family in one room in a school. When she came in, she was pregnant and suffering from severe preeclampsia, which indicates very high blood pressure. She had obviously had the condition for some time, because her baby was poorly grown.

In fact her baby died as we tried to save her life. She was an example of someone who could not access the care that she needed during pregnancy and for whom the outcome was a tragic one.

Because her life was potentially at risk, the life of her baby came second to hers—a very difficult dilemma to come to terms with. But what stuck with me was her resilience, how she grieved but was still so grateful for the care and support that she was given. That was very striking.

Another woman who made a strong impact on me was a woman who came in for antenatal care. When I asked about her previous deliveries, she mentioned that she had seven children, but four of them had recently died in a bomb blast in the nearest town. But we were able to help her deliver a healthy baby. To see her holding her new baby after everything she’d been through was a really rewarding experience.

MSF is running six hospitals in northern Syria. From June 2012 to August 2013, MSF teams have carried out more than 66,900 medical consultations and 3,400 surgical procedures and have attended 1,420 deliveries. MSF teams have also provided more than 200,000 consultations for Syrian refugees in neighbouring countries.

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Doctors Without Borders

Location: New York, NY - USA
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Twitter: @MSF_USA
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