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Syria: Humanitarian Fund series - A health centre back in action

07 Aug 2019

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Paediatrician, Sana, attends to 7-year-old Kareem at the Sakhour health centre. 

Interviews by Joumana Hout, text and photos by Hedinn Halldorsson

AUGUST 2019, EASTERN ALEPPO CITY

My grandson Kareem is only seven, I am taking care of him and his sister who is five,

says his grandmother, Selma* holding little Kareem’s hand, she explains he stopped eating after his father was killed in a shelling. Kareem lies on his back on a bench in the paediatric unit in Sakhour Health Centre while Sana, the paediatrician examines him. His grandmother stands by and monitors Sana’s every move. “I trust the doctors here, they are the best”, says Selma. 
The Sakhour neighbourhood in north-east Aleppo has been witness to a lot of suffering. The destruction in north-east Aleppo is large scale and public hospitals and infrastructure have not been spared. But life is slowly returning to the deserted buildings and streets. The Sakhour Health Centre is the only building with its façade intact and therefore stands out among the ruins. The building has been renovated with the support of the Syrian Humanitarian Fund (SHF) and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
Further down the road, a primary school that recently re-opened after being rehabilitated by the SHF, is also starting to attract people back into the neighbourhood. 
In 2012, when the conflict in Syria reached the country’s industrial and economic capital, the Sakhour Health Centre was forced to close. Many of its staff joined a Syrian Arab Red Crescent clinic in a different part of Aleppo, while armed groups took over the Sakhour Health Centre facilities. 
Four years later, when the Government of Syria regained control over eastern Aleppo, the centre had been badly damaged due to heavy fighting, with only its external walls left standing. Today, seven years after the Sakhour Centre formally ceased to operate, its doors are open again. 
By re-opening the Centre, SHF wanted to provide basic health services to people living in and those wanting to return to eastern Aleppo. And to make it happen, SHF and its implementing partners embarked on a mission to provide life-saving and sustained health assistance for people with an emphasis on those most at risk. Work started in 2018, with the removal of debris, levelling and fencing and eventually rehabilitation and construction. 
The medical team expected a slow start and for caseloads to gradually increase in number. No one was prepared for the long queues outside the centre on the opening day, in April 2019. Word had spread that the Sakhour Health Centre was up and running again. The fact that the centre has been busy from day one, is a clear indicator of the need.

Many suffer from chronic diseases and need to be monitored. We get fewer war injuries now because there is less fighting, but we still see many patients who have lost limbs and either need artificial limbs or need to be amputated. We prepare them for the operation and refer them to ICRC [International Committee of the Red Cross],

says Dr. Ahmad Al-Sheikh, the Centre’s managing director.  
Every day, a team of 28 doctors and nurses examine between 200-300 cases.

We expect an increase in the numbers as more and more people return to the area,

says Al-Sheikh. Aleppo Governorate is among the governorates expected to see the biggest numbers of returnees in 2019.
However, the situation is still fraught with hurdles, for example, insufficient medicine stocks. UNHCR provides some basic medicines but due to lack of funds, the health centre runs out of certain medicines every now and then.
On the examination bench, next to Kareem’s, sits three-year old Reem who doesn’t let go of her grandmother’s hand. “We’re here because the little girl has a urinary infection. She’s orphaned. When her father died, her mother asked me and my husband to take good care of her,” Reem’s grandmother informs Elias the nurse. 
Reem and her grandmother belong to the majority in eastern Aleppo - women-headed households and elderly people, people living with disabilities or patients with medical conditions who require particular assistance. In short, a demographic group in dire need of protection and sustained support.  
SHF through its partners has rehabilitated the Centre to provide primary health services, free of charge, to an estimate of more than 20,000 people. The Centre is now fully equipped, with nine different clinics, at a cost of nearly US$500,000 of which SHF provided $375,000. 

*Not her real name

Interviews by Joumana Hout, text and photos by Hedinn Halldorsson
 


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