“The virus is more dangerous than war”. Coping with Covid-19 in Syria

15 December 2020, 15:48

Jihan, a Kurdish Red Crescent health worker, tells UPP about her years of experience in North East Syria. “Fighting it is so hard, because it’s invisible. It doesn’t destroy houses, but it does kill people,” she says.

“The new clinic in Ras El Ain/Serekanye was incredible, we will always miss it”. Jihan is 30 years old and is a team leader for the Kurdish Red Crescent, who worked in the KRC/UPP clinic in the town of Ras El Ain/ Serekanye, which was the frontline of the Turkish invasion of North East Syria in October 2019.

Back then, there were about 30 patients in the clinic when the town was attacked and the electricity was cut off. It took a few days for the Red Crescent doctors to reach them and take the wounded people to safety in our ambulances. The clinic however was completely destroyed.

“Before the clinic was built, we used to treat patients in an apartment, with very limited medical supplies and equipment and barely any qualified staff,” Jihan recalls. “Then, together with Un Ponte Per we managed to set up a fully-equipped clinic. Until the Turkish bombing raids, which took it all away again,” she continues

Jihan tells us about those terrible days: “At first we were naive and thought the invasion wouldn’t last long. We kept our spirits up by saying it was just a few difficult days before everything got back to normal. But the truth is that we have still not gone back to normal. And it is really not easy to stay as strong and as brave as we felt when all this began.”

By the time the Turkish attack finally ended, the clinic – and indeed the whole town – was left in ruins.  The local health workers, just like everybody else, had to move away to tents in what would eventually become the Washokani refugee camp, hastily set up by the North East Syria Autonomous Administration to shelter the fleeing populace.

“It was very hard to leave everything behind and start a new life without a house. We had to adapt to our new lives in tents, with shared bathrooms and kitchens. But our duty was still to provide healthcare,” she adds. “There were no absolutely healthcare provisions. So with the support of Un Ponte Per, we managed to set up a little clinic for the Washokani refugees”, she continues.

As the months passed, our healthcare facility gradually expanded and improved, but we still felt sad and angry about what had been lost: “There was just no comparison between our new clinic and the one that had been set up in the town. But our friends at UPP were always ready to support us with medical supplies, equipment and staff.”

But there is still so much more to be done, especially since the pandemic took hold.

Covid-19 made everything even harder. “We are very careful about prevention and safety measures”, explains Jihan.
“Our healthcare team is growing every day  and we are developing new procedures to cope with the situation. Until recently we didn’t even have electronic thermometers, but now we use them and we have also set up an isolation unit. It is very difficult to carry out large scale testing, because so far tests are only provided for the most vulnerable people. I think this virus is more dangerous than the war, because it is invisible and silent. It doesn’t destroy houses but it does kill people”.

Prevention must be the priority, especially when healthcare facilities are so precarious. “We are coping thanks to our Community health care teams who are doing very important work. They are raising awareness among the camp dwellers of the dangers of the pandemic. But they sometimes are in direct contact with family members who test positive: they really are on the frontline, and yet they never hesitate about doing their job”, Jihan tells us proudly.

One day, I would really like to go back to the clinic in Ras El Ain/ Serekanye one day, where we worked before the Turkish invasion. Everybody here at the camp is grateful for our help and view this clinic in a tent like a big hospital. It would be awful for them if we left. Which is why I hope our collaboration with KRC and UPP will last forever: together, we are doing excellent work”.

We also hope to continue working side by side on this project for as long as it is necessary.

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