Amman (Jordan), 7 December 2016 – A clinic for war-wounded Syrians in northern Jordan is being forced to close just six months after Jordan shut its borders with Syria, says international medical organisation Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF). At the clinic in Zaatari refugee camp, some 80 km northeast of Amman, MSF provided post-operative care to refugees recovering from surgery carried out in nearby Ramtha and other hospitals.
Jordan’s decision to seal its borders with Syria on 21 June halted the medical evacuation of war-wounded Syrians from southern Syria’s Dara’a governorate to MSF’s surgical project in Ramtha hospital, where MSF has provided emergency surgical care for more than three years alongside the Jordanian Ministry of Health. Currently, its wards are almost empty. As a result, referrals to MSF’s Zaatari clinic have plummeted.
MSF’s team in Ramtha hospital continues to treat the limited specific cases of war-wounded allowed into the country. But should the border remain shut, MSF is concerned that its surgery program in Ramtha may also be forced to close.
Field hospitals in southern Syria are overstretched and short of staff and equipment. Injured patients may be transferred from one field hospital to the next in pursuit of the required medical expertise or equipment to perform complex surgeries that could otherwise be performed in Jordan, risking their chances of survival.
“With fighting and airstrikes intensifying in south Syria since late September, MSF has received information that the number of Syrians injured in this brutal conflict has mounted,” says Luis Eguiluz, MSF’s head of mission in Jordan. “However, MSF’s ability to save lives has been seriously restricted now that war-wounded are not allowed in and while we can continue to wait for the borders to open, the seriously wounded do not have the option to wait.”
MSF opened its 40-bed post-operative care clinic in Zaatari refugee camp in late March 2014 as an overflow facility for its surgical project in Ramtha to provide convalescent and rehabilitative care to Syrian patients, including prosthesis, physiotherapy, and psychosocial support. A total of 531 war-wounded patients referred from Ramtha hospital and other medical facilities were admitted to the clinic, while staff provided 2,143 outpatient consultations, 1,454 physiotherapy sessions, and more than 2,500 mental health consultations.
Today, Zaatari clinic is shut and MSF’s wards in Ramtha hospital stand nearly empty, while the fighting and airstrikes in southern Syria continue unabated and the need to provide lifesaving treatment to severely-wounded Syrians grows. Yet, the Jordanian border stays fortified and firmly sealed, forcing wounded Syrians either to find alternative solutions to stay alive or else to die.
“Knowing that there are probably patients dying just a few kilometres away on the other side of the border because of lack of access to essential medical care is shameful,” says Marjan Besuijen, MSF project coordinator in Zaatari. “The wards inside the Zaatari clinic are silent, no longer filled with conversations or laughter. But this is not because the violence in Syria has diminished in any way, nor that there are no wounded in need of medical treatment. This is solely due to a physical barrier depriving those desperately in need of lifesaving medical care from receiving it.”
Through its medical partners in southern Syria, MSF has recorded at least 70 cases of war-wounded Syrians – 16 of them children – being denied permission to cross the Jordanian border, despite being in need of lifesaving surgical treatment.
MSF reiterates its calls on the Government of Jordan to reverse its decision and to open its borders to war-wounded Syrians to enable them to access urgent lifesaving medical care unavailable to them in Syria.
MSF has been working in Jordan since August 2006 when it set up a reconstructive surgery project in the capital, Amman. Since 2013, MSF has been running an emergency trauma surgical project in Ramtha hospital, as well as a mother and child hospital and two non-communicable disease projects in Irbid and Ramtha, to support both Syrian refugees and vulnerable Jordanians.