This week the Syrian government have announced new restrictions as a result of increased COVID-19 cases and deaths. They are not giving permissions for parties or social events (these kind of events for the public require permission), and people cannot attend funerals. Many people are feeling more worried. The schools are still open, but some people are not sending their children to school. Under the new guidance this week, the Christmas party we were making plans for will have to be postponed - until the law allows and people feel more confidence. We have put people’s kind donations aside, and will make a nice party for the orphans and children from our street as soon as it is safer, and we are permitted to do so.
The number of COVID-19 cases in Syria has been escalating very rapidly, even just since I left Syria the week before last, but it is hard to fully track as most cases go untested. Many people make their own self diagnosis, which could be right or wrong. But what we do know for sure is that the few public hospitals, which receive all the COVID-19 cases in Syria, are at full capacity, and also that most people who are unwell will not seek testing. A relative of one of our team, who lives very close to our centres, said on one day this week, that he had watched ten funeral processions pass his home, before midday.
If the area doesn’t go into a full lockdown, we hope the tradesman will continue finishing the refurbishment work in our two buildings, which are both so much closer to being ready. We are still facing significant challenges with workers. The PVC fitters eventually did a great job and have finished the walls - which look wonderful! But we have been let down by each of the tradesmen who committed to fitting the last missing windows, some of which are very large and take up almost the whole width of certain walls. This has set us back a number of weeks, as we cannot lay the resin floors until these windows are in and the building is protected from the dust and the elements.
It seems to have become normal practice for most workers to agree a price to do the work, then either not turn up for work or call when they were due to start, demanding more money, or asking for a huge deposit upfront. Months of working time has been wasted in this way, as there are many jobs that can’t be done until others are completed. It has been a continuing burden and frustration for Dr A and the team. Others do a week’s work then refuse to continue unless their fee is increased. It is exhausting, and causes so many delays while the team then have to go to the next on the list and get them ready to start. Sadly it is not just in the field of construction - this has now become the pattern for so many of the services across the country. It is a daily battle for our team to get anyone who has committed to doing anything, to do and deliver what they have agreed, and for the price they agreed. It has become a dog eat dog environment where many people do not value their word anymore, and try to seize every opportunity they can to make a little extra money. A strong work ethic is hard to find. It makes it such a tough place even just to live, before you consider trying to organise any kind of work. This is one of the reasons we feel that committing to educating the next generation is so important.
As the law currently stands in Syria, we cannot deal with COVID-19 cases inside our new private medical centre, when it opens, hopefully soon. There is talk about whether this law will change soon, as only select government hospitals are allowed to deal with COVID-19 cases. Whether or not this changes, we are working on a plan, and are beginning to make arrangements, to support the treatment of people with suspected COVID-19, under the banner of our medical centre, but in the community.
If people get sick, the damaged healthcare system, restricted further because of the international sanctions, is very ill equipped to deal with anyone who needs significant treatment or intensive care. We have heard many stories this year, of people paying huge amounts to receive medical care in their own homes, as private hospitals cannot treat them if they have suspected COVID-19 in their buildings. People want to know which doctors will care for them or their loved ones if they catch this virus. Most people only trust those they know or whose reputation is very good. But only the wealthy can cover the incredibly high costs for this kind of home care. What concerns us is the majority of others - the ordinary people - who simply can’t pay for this kind of treatment, when the public COVID-19 hospitals are full.
We are making plans now to support the treatment of patients in their homes too, but without charging the huge sums we have heard people are charged for this kind of care. Once our medical centre is open, both doctors and nurses, can work in the community under its name. We are so close now. Earlier this year many people gave to support our COVID-19 medical response, and we were disappointed that we were unable to do more at the time. But we felt the situation would deteriorate over time and that the help would be needed more desperately at a later date when the situation had escalated more. This does appear to be what has happened, and now is the time that the need is becoming more obvious. We are grateful to be in a position to respond very soon.
The cases have been rising over the course of the year, but now, a lot of people know a number who have died, and lots are talking about being sick. There is more fear now, and the COVID-19 hospitals are clearly overwhelmed, hence the new government restrictions. Even just this week, professionals working with our team refused to meet indoors and were far more cautious, using PPE, which was not the case last week. When asked why the sudden change, they said they had seen their neighbours dying and they were afraid.
Many of you will remember that our Dr A is a specialist Intensive Care consultant - the perfect doctor to run and oversee this work. The struggle we have had until now is that all the private hospitals want to take huge sums, which are impossible for most to pay, to extend home care to suspected COVID-19 patients. We weren’t able or willing to cover their huge costs. This is why our team have had to wait until we have our own medical centre to work under. But we are nearly there now, and regardless of whether we put every resource available to us into dealing with suspected COVID-19 - it still won’t come close to being enough. We need to manage our resources as best we can, to respond to this crisis.
We plan to care for as many suspected COVID-19 patients as we can, in the most cost effective way to be able to serve as many as we can. We plan to do this while still working towards our short to medium term vision of getting our new, equally life-saving medical centre, fully functioning. While doing both of these, we need to ensure that we are still continuing to work towards the essential long term vision of our big hospital. It is so important that we don’t take from one to fund another, so we are putting in what we can to each of these three projects, as each of them is needed as much as the others. We have much of what we need for the first stages of our medical centre and plan to equip this department by department, after getting the emergency room, laboratory, X-ray and pharmacy up and running. We will start with more simple services and develop them over time, and we already have some equipment which we are in the process of assessing. We are keen to raise money to buy more renal dialysis machines, which we anticipate costing around £10,000 per machine for something reliable. If anyone wants to start a fundraising project to contribute to one of these machines it would be so helpful. And we have a smaller, but reasonable amount, to make a start with supporting the treatment of suspected COVID-19 patients at home. If there is a significant demand for this, the funding we have will not go very far, so if anyone would like to help with this medical response support can be given for this through our MEDICAL APPEAL.
Most healthcare workers are very scared of getting sick. They know the challenges and limitations of the damaged healthcare system in Syria, ravaged by ten years of war and sanctions. It has seen too many hospital buildings destroyed, too many doctors leave Syria to live in other countries, and too many doctors targeted, attacked, kidnapped and killed during the war. To add insult to injury, COVID-19 has now claimed the lives of far too many more doctors - doctors the healthcare system could not afford to lose. Many friends, acquaintances and work colleagues of our team have already died this year, and new deaths are added to that list each day. Yet many of these worked in private healthcare settings rather than the COVID-19 hospitals, meaning they are exposed, regardless of whether they work in designated COVID-19 hospitals or not. As a result, many doctors - especially older doctors and those with health issues - are afraid to go to work, even if they aren’t working in specialities that would ordinarily be higher risk disciplines for COVID-19. The world is a hard place for so many right now, but the situation in Syria is extremely concerning as the healthcare system is so badly damaged. People are afraid of needing it as they don’t trust that it can deliver what is needed.
Our team are now working hard, trying to get the last stages of the medical centre finished, making plans and arrangements, checking equipment, talking with doctors and nurses and assessing who is willing to work with suspected COVID-19 patients. Most of the doctors and nurses we have heard of who have treated patients in their homes, have asked for high salaries to do so. Given the huge risks they are taking, their lack of confidence in being able to gain reliable treatment if they need it, and what will happen to their families if they die, who can blame them? But someone has to do it. If you would like to support our medical response in Syria, you can do so HERE.
If you would like to support us in prayer, we would ask you to pray with us for:
Wisdom and guidance. You could barely believe the relentless barrage of problems and complications we face, every day, working in Syria. It requires a will and ability to prayerfully ‘fight’, and far more persistence than anyone in the UK can understand based on normal life here.
Protection for our team. The food and economic crisis is now so severe in Syria that many people who used to live honest lives have been driven to desperation, and now resort to any means they can to extract money from people. This creates a very dangerous situation for anyone perceived to have access to money.
Completion of the construction work in the outreach centre for orphans and widows and the medical centre. The priorities now are the windows and aluminium frames, the resin floors, the installation of the bathroom furniture, the installation and painting of the doors.
Equipping the medical centre. We have some equipment, but need to buy more. Please pray for open doors for provision of the most essential equipment first.
Resourcing our projects. We are still recruiting staff, both for the outreach centre for orphans and widows, and are now also beginning to recruit the team for the medical centre. Please pray for the right people, who share our vision and commitment, and who have the right motivations for doing this work. This is one of our biggest prayers right now.
There are other projects we are working on which we haven’t yet talked about. We are excited to be able to share more but are still working out the direction for this, and would appreciate your prayers. Once we have a clearer direction, we would love to share more.
Thank you so much for your support. We are so grateful to have this wonderful army of supporters alongside us in this journey which is both tough and challenging but also exciting and rewarding.
Samara and the team
Click on video Links to see the update from tehr hospital and outreach centre respectively: