Dr. Fedaa Shofan listens intently to every mother she sees. She, herself, had to leave her home and private clinic, both of which were damaged by fighting. She is sheltering with her family and other relatives in an overcrowded apartment.
“We are all affected psychologically,” she says. “But the community is supportive of our work. This makes it much easier for us to do our job.
"I can’t complain,” she adds.
HOMS, Syrian Arab Republic (May 29, 2013) — Six mornings a week, Dr. Fedaa Shofan attends to children and women seeking medical assistance at a clinic run by one of the local NGOs in Homs city.
The clinic is at the edge of a severely damaged neighborhood, in front of a school with large holes on its façade and a building with its iron skeleton exposed. The windows at the front of the clinic building are still broken, though other repairs have been made.
With the assistance of a midwife, Dr. Shofan examines 30 to 40 children and women every day. Patients are mostly from families displaced in the neighborhood.
Later in the morning, Dr. Shofan makes her routine visits to shelters for displaced families. She is part of one of the three mobile health teams in Homs that go from shelter to shelter taking medical services to where the children are.
“It’s not just a matter of convenience for the families,” says the branch head of one of the NGOs that operate the teams. “It is also a matter of dignity. When you go to them, families feel that they are cared for. That they are not forgotten.”
Throughout the Syrian Arab Republic, UNICEF is supporting 50 such teams, which have, so far, provided medical assistance to over 44,400 children alone.
“Shortage of medicine is a challenge,” says Dr. Shofan. Some of the medicine provided during the visits is purchased with UNICEF’s financial support. However, teams are mainly relying on medicine provided by members of the community. “We have a shortage of antibiotics and specialized items like inhalers for asthmatic patients. But, otherwise, everyone is helpful and eager to facilitate our work. Even children are helping out.”
A group of children and women have gathered in the corridor of a shelter, waiting outside a small room. About 50 patients are examined every time a team visits a shelter, usually once or twice a week.
A woman has brought her 11-month-old niece to be checked. “We don’t have any income,” she says. "We can’t afford going to private doctors or to buy medicines.” The little girl has been having flu symptoms. “Her mother is not well since her husband has gone missing,” adds the woman. “No one knows whether he is dead or alive, so we can’t even receive financial assistance given to orphan children by charities. That’s why I am the one taking care of my sister’s children.”
Another woman comes in with her 1-year-old child. The family has been displaced several times since they were first uprooted one year ago. “She’s been vomiting and has diarrhea,” the mother tells Dr. Shofan. The doctor asks whether the child has had any fever. She checks her chest and stomach. “She has a stomach infection, so you need to give her this medicine for diarrhea. You can feed her boiled potatoes and boiled rice, and give her lots of fluids,” Dr. Shofan advises the mother.
In overcrowded settings like collective shelters, disease among children spreads fast. Respiratory infections are commonly reported among displaced children, as well as scabies and head lice. “Hygiene is a big problem, and also lack of water causing these problems,” explains Dr. Shofan.
With needs vastly outpacing funding, UNICEF is in urgent need of additional donations to expand this activity and reach more children with much needed lifesaving assistance, including medicine.