Month: January 2021

January 28, 2021

Coronavirus Dispatch: Horror scenes in Lebanon intensive care wards

Lebanon’s intensive care wards are gripped with dreaded scenes, leaving the doctors and staff with no choice but to make life and death decisions about who should receive scarce medical resources and choose between two people on who to save and who to leave dying. 

Virus-stricken people are gasping for breath, in the horror hospital scenes as rising cases, following Christmas holidays, swamped the scanty medical resources. The medics say they are on the edge of “the Italy scenario”. More than 1,000 people have died of COVID-19 in Lebanon in January. 

“The country is falling apart,”

While many countries have grappled with hospital bed shortages and the need to prioritise care, Lebanon’s response has been hobbled by the more than year-long financial crisis and the blast at Beirut port, which devastated the city, partly destroying four hospitals.

Two weeks into a strict lockdown, inconsistently enforced, Lebanon’s intensive care units are 94 percent full. The entire country is affected.

Some hospitals had to treat patients in the hallways and in the emergency department entrance. Patients admitted to hectic emergency wards alone face the prospect of dying far from family. Medical staff just hold iPads up to the dying so they can see their families one last time. 

January 21, 2021

When People Flee to Seek Refuge

There is a story behind every single refugee. Conflicts, poverty, illness, civil war, famine. But is that really it? 

More than a crisis

We remember faces, stories, names of colleagues and patients, often of the surrounding nature, the local food, the music.

Tragic moments, too, when we have lost a patient, when we hear the fate of the colleague, and sometimes the moments when everything feels too much to handle, when we are tired, exhausted and maybe close to burning out.

But we still would not want to miss a single assignment.

The joy of the patients, when they made it and were allowed to leave the treatment center as cured.

The (unbelievably delicious) breaking of the fast during Ramadan together with the local staff and our little hero, as we lovingly called him, a newborn on whom we almost gave up, but who battled himself back to life.

The tours to vaccinate children in the even most remote villages and then in the evening the hours spent together around the campfire.

The tenacious will of the mothers, who often struggle alone on their own through their heavy lives in the camp and our colleagues who have some hard years of war behind them and yet do not lose their smile.

Why people flee

From a distance, these countries sound strange and far away, nothing that concerns us here.

Often many hours away by air, you may have read about some of them in newspapers or on the radio. Others may sound completely unknown.

The reasons to flee and seek refuge elsewhere are as numerous as there are refugees. There is a story behind every single one of them – something that is often forgotten when purely mentioning the numbers.

Everyone has had sisters or brothers, children or parents, but most certainly a best friend whom they left behind.

In the course of our years with SEMA US, we have heard many stories. Some of them are hard to bear.

That fewer people try to flee, just because there are no rescue ships is a fallacy. Because the reasons to flee their homes remain the same – and also it is not up to us to evaluate these.

Detention centers where torture and rape are the order of the day are more than widespread. Access to medical assistance is virtually non-existent.

What we appreciate

The strength of the people on the ground, who carry on, who don’t give up hope, is always one of the most impressive memories we take home with us.

These are walls that block the view of people in need, walls that forbid saving human lives.

Another thing that stays with us is the tremendous appreciation of our own privileges in which we grew up, the safe haven we can return to after each new assignment. And how much richer our lives have already become through these experiences and newfound friendships.

Beyond walls

Even though we feel particularly affected as a nurse in humanitarian work, we know that we are not the only one who worries when human rights are publicly challenged.

What concerns us – we  will continue to work for SEMA US. From our blog posts, we will continue to tell you about the help we provide locally in order to save human lives.

Whether they are big or small people, wounded soldiers or pregnant women, it does not matter to SEMA US and it doesn’t matter to us.

And you? Do not close your eyes, do not be fooled by walls, even if they are made of words, and do not let humanity disappear from your hearts.

We can only do it together.

January 12, 2021

Lebanon says first case of new coronavirus variant detected on flight from London

Lebanon has detected its first case of the new variant of the coronavirus, which has been spreading rapidly in parts of Britain, on a flight arriving from London, it said on Friday. 

“The detection of the first case of the new variant of Covid-19 on Middle East Airlines flight 202 coming from London on Dec. 21,” the country’s caretaker health minister said on Twitter, urging all passengers on the flight and their families to take precautionary measures. 

A surge in coronavirus infections is straining Lebanon’s healthcare system, which was already struggling amid a financial crisis and following the huge port explosion in August which damaged hospitals in Beirut. 

Lebanon, with an estimated population of 6 million people, has reported more than 1,000 deaths as a result of COVID-19.

We’ve seen how it can devastate fragile health systems, and how it can affect the most vulnerable in places like refugee camps. But for many, the virus itself isn’t the worst effect of the pandemic. Displaced people and refugees around the world are facing a multitude of obstacles including lack of health care and economic opportunities.

Our operational focus, even in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, remains unchanged. From hard-hit areas to conflict and crisis settings, SEMA US has sought to reach the most vulnerable people, delivering medical care and other assistance to remote communities, people on the move, people who are homeless or housing insecure, and elderly people living in long-term care facilities. 

As the pandemic exacerbates existing health care challenges for our patients, we need your help to rapidly shore up resources ahead of 2021 and ensure we can continue our lifesaving work.

January 6, 2021

The increasing number of suicide cases in Iraq worries public health experts amidst COVID-19 pandemic

The growing number of suicide cases in Iraq over the past years is a worrying public health concern that can no longer be ignored. If not addressed, it will keep taking a heavy toll on individuals and communities in the country.

Over 590 people died in 2019 due to suicide, and 1112 attempted it in Iraq; 80% of them were women which translates to an average of one death per day due to suicide, and three people per day to have attempted suicide. The number of suicide cases reported in 2019 is higher than those reported in 2018 (519) and 2017 (422). It’s important to note that although suicide is tragic, it is often preventable. Knowing the causes for suicide and who is at risk can help reduce the mortality.

Over several years, many Iraqi families have suffered with mental health scars caused by past conflicts and economic hostilities, as if this is not enough; many communities have also faced new stay-at-home restrictions or limited movements to curb the spread of COVID-19. This, public health experts say, raises concerns as it may increase suicide rates or associated risk factors, including social isolation, anxiety, fear of contagion, uncertainty, unemployment, chronic stress, and economic difficulties, which could worsen depression, anxiety, and substance. Other factors include barriers to access mental health services, depression, and insomnia among populations and some healthcare professionals.

Also, various factors could contribute to rates of suicide in Iraq, including intimate partner problems, physical health conditions, financial challenges, and legal issues. Others are personal or family experiences of violence, for instance, child abuse, neglect, or family history of suicide and broader community conditions, such as high crime rates and violence.

SEMA US acknowledges suicide as a public health priority. Globally, 800,000 people die yearly due to suicide, and for every case, more than 20 others most likely attempt suicide. There is also one death recorded every 40 seconds globally due to suicide.

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