Syrian refugee baby gets life-saving surgery, others wait

Syrian refugee baby gets life-saving surgery, others wait
Italian pediatric surgeons are performing free surgeries on Syrian refugee children, but many still can't afford treatment or medical care.
3 min read
14 March, 2018
Paediatric surgeon after performing a heart surgeon on a Syrian refugee child [Getty]

Italian pediatric surgeons from a Vatican hopsital arrived last week in Jordan to perform free life-saving heart surgeries for Syrian refugee children, AP reported.

Among them was Eman al-Matoura who was treated last week -- the al-Matoura family fled Syria for Jordan in 2012. Her mother, Sara, discovered just four months into her pregnancy that her yet-to-be-born daughter had tricuspid atresia, a congenital heart defect with a mortality rate of 90 per cent before age 10.

After Eman's surgery, doctors told them she would likely need another, more complicated surgery in two to five years.

"I don't know where we will get the money then," al-Matoura said. "But thank God for healing her today."

Many other Syrian refugees with heart defects, cancer and other complex medical conditions are regularly left untreated. Even primary care and basic services such as child delivery are increasingly unaffordable in Jordan and other host communities.

More than 5 million Syrians have fled their homeland since 2011, mostly settling in neighbouring countries. 

With international funds drying up, host communities in Jordan and elsewhere are cutting back on resources for Syrians. 

While Eman was being operated on, another Syrian child named Tamer needed heart surgery -- when he moves too much, he loses his breath and turns blue.

But Tamer's final surgery costs up to $28,000, far more than his mother can afford. 

Jordan used to subsidize Syrians' fees at government health facilities. But these were cancelled in February, meaning refugees must pay two to five times more for life-saving interventions.

Meanwhile, severe conditions like cancer and heart disease are subject to a special doctors' committee that sifts through hundreds of cases each month, deciding which few to assist based on criteria including vulnerability, prognosis and cost.

"Of course people come back month after month and apply again, because they are desperate," said Dr. Adam Musa, a U.N. public health officer who sits on the committee. 

In January, 60 out of 143 refugee applications for emergency help were approved. The UN gave them approximately $2,000 each. There wasn't enough funding for the rest, Musa said.

The UN refugee agency spent $51 million on 84,000 life-saving cases in Lebanon last year, yet could not cover most cancer cases with poor prognoses, chemotherapy, radiotherapy or dialysis.

"There are very few NGOs that are able to provide support for some of these cases and we know that people have taken difficult decisions to return to Syria to access dialysis or cancer care," said Dr. Michael Woodman, senior public health officer in the UNHCR's Beirut office.

Agencies contributed to this report.

Follow us on Twitter: @The_NewArab