Author: Suleman Sheikh

October 1, 2020

Iraq: COVID-19 in Baghdad is “very alarming”

The COVID-19 emergency in Iraq continues to escalate,  with the country reporting close to 4,000 new cases a day and approximately 500 deaths a week. In the past month, more than 100,000 cases have been detected in the country, and on September 23, 5,055 new COVID-19 cases were confirmed, representing the highest daily rate in the country since the beginning of the pandemic. Iraq’s capital, Baghdad, is the worst-hit city, with almost 30 percent of the country’s reported cases.

We’re trying to do our best to support the efforts of Iraqi health authorities in tackling the virus, even though our capacity is limited. Even with the high number of patients we see at the moment, we are not sure where we are on the epidemiological curve. From what we can see, the situation is deeply worrying. SEMA US teams are assisting in the Respiratory Care Unit (RCU) in primary health facilities, providing training for staff, administration of medication, and implementation of techniques adapted for the treatment of COVID-19.

By the time we have a free bed, patients are already in really bad shape.

Despite efforts to control the spread of the virus, the growing number of severe and critical cases has recently overwhelmed health facilities treating people with COVID-19. 

Many patients stay in the RCU for 15 to 20 days to be treated, meaning that sometimes new patients are put on the waiting list for two, maybe three days, until they can get the treatment they need. By the time we have a free bed, patients are in really bad shape. It is really distressing to watch these people wait for a bed. 

The waiting lists and lack of bed capacity are not the only issues in Baghdad. Some people are waiting to come to the health facility when it’s almost too late to seek treatment. Some people in the city do not appreciate the gravity of the situation, and they are not taking prevention measures.

These people seem to be avoiding treatment due to the heavy social stigma associated with COVID-19 in the community. We think many people sometimes only realize how bad the situation is when they or a loved one is brought to the health facility. They see patients dying, very quickly, every day. Then they realize the reality of the situation.

Iraqi health workers have also been very badly affected, with almost 15,000 cases among this group since the start of the outbreak. This risk to health care workers comes at a time when hospitals in Baghdad are dealing with human resource shortages, further complicating an already critical situation.

September 24, 2020

Surge in COVID-19 cases worsens humanitarian challenges in NW Syria

Curbing the spread of COVID-19 is difficult in overcrowded camps

The number of people with COVID-19 in displacement camps in northwest Syria is ten times higher than it was just a month ago. SEMA US continues to support the health system and carry out prevention activities in the camps. 

As of September 26, 825 people had tested positive for COVID-19 in the region, almost 30 percent of them are health workers. Fifty four new cases were recorded on September 26 alone, which is one of the highest one-day total since the first case was recorded in early July. However, testing has remained limited, which raises doubts about the real rate of transmission and the true number of infections in the region.

This is worrying. We’re trying to help people in the camps protect themselves against the virus, but we can’t change the overall situation and the fact that they live in such a place. We need to adapt constantly to provide solutions for these people who already are living in incredibly difficult conditions.

More than two million people—over half of the population—have been displaced by the conflict. Most of them now live in overcrowded camps with limited access to water and poor sanitation. Because of this, control measures like physical distancing, handwashing, and isolating are challenging—if not impossible—for most camp residents.

Since April 2020, SEMA US teams have distributed hygiene kits, including items such as soap and detergent, to thousands of displaced families in several camps.

Our health educators also conduct awareness-raising sessions that explain how COVID-19 is transmitted and how to prevent infection. 

Understanding COVID-19 and knowing more about it is a big step towards avoiding catching it.

We are also working in health facilities to treat patients with COVID-19 or who have other medical needs. For example, SEMA US has set up a triage system in each of the hospitals that we support, co-manage or run. This ensures fast detection of suspected COVID-19 cases while maintaining continuity of care for patients.

September 17, 2020

Syria: Health Workers Lack Protection in Pandemic

Syria is failing to protect health workers at the front line of the Covid-19 pandemic in the territory.

Doctors, aid workers, and civilians in Syria said that the country is overwhelmed, with hospitals beyond capacity, health workers facing serious shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE), and with many of their colleagues and relatives dying after suffering Covid-19 symptoms. The Health Ministry said that 76 health workers had tested positive for the virus as of the end of August. A total of 2,765 confirmed cases and 112 related deaths were reported. However, evidence suggests that the numbers across the country could be significantly higher.

It is bewildering that as the obituaries for doctors and nurses responding to the Covid-19 pandemic pile up, official numbers tell a story at odds with the reality on the ground. Lack of aid for the health of its front-line workers during a global pandemic is sadly no surprise.

Human Rights Watch interviewed three doctors, one nurse, two aid workers, and two experts, reviewed social media posts by people or pages considered reliable sources, and collected reporting by reliable third parties to assess discrepancies in the Syrian government’s reporting on its own response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Those interviewed said that shortages of adequate protective equipment and restricted access to oxygen tanks are most likely contributing to deaths among Syria’s health workers and the wider population. Health workers said that testing, oxygen, and basic medical care are available only to those who can afford it, violating the fundamental right to equal and affordable access to health.

The World Health Organization (WHO) and other organizations with a health mandate should publicly insist on expanding testing capacities and transparent and accurate reporting on numbers of Covid-19 cases and equitable distribution of sufficient personal protective equipment to health workers throughout the country, including rural areas.

Residents said their neighbors and relatives were falling ill or dying after exhibiting symptoms consistent with Covid-19, including high fever and severe respiratory distress. They said that their relatives who had attempted to go to a hospital or clinic were turned away for lack of capacity.

Nurses, doctors, and aid workers who work in hospitals or support their operation from outside Syria said that major hospitals that are prepared to deal with Covid-19 cases have exceeded their capacity, and other hospitals do not have the necessary infrastructure, citing a lack of availability of oxygen canisters, ventilators, and beds. Front-line workers said they do not have the necessary protective equipment, training, or protocols to treat complications from Covid-19.

September 10, 2020

Iraq Hospitals Fear ‘Losing Control’ as Coronavirus Cases Surge

Authorities warn hospitals may ‘lose control’ amid record rise in single-day COVID-19 cases since the pandemic began.

Iraq has recorded its highest single-day rise in COVID-19 cases since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, prompting authorities to warn hospitals may “lose control” in the coming days.

According to the Iraqi health ministry, 5,036 new coronavirus infections were confirmed within 24 hours on Friday, bringing the total number of cases across the country to 252,075, of which 7,359 had died.

The health ministry attributed the spike to recent “large gatherings” that took place without recommended safety measures, including mask-wearing or social distancing.

Karbala’s authorities introduced new measures to stem the spread of the virus, including restricting access to areas of worship and widespread spraying of disinfectants.

But the health ministry warned the measures were not enough.

“The number of cases is expected to escalate further in the coming days, which we fear will lead our health institutions to lose control as they try to deal with these large numbers,” its statement said on Friday.

“This will lead to an increase in the number of deaths, after we made headway in reducing them over the past few weeks.”

Iraq’s hospitals have already been worn down by decades of conflict and poor investment, with shortages in medicines, hospital beds and even protective equipment for doctors.

Before Ashoura, the World Health Organization had warned that COVID-19 cases in Iraq were rising at an “alarming rate” and said Iraq should take action to end the community outbreak “at all costs”.

September 3, 2020

Beirut explosion: Mental health of people affected is under threat

Three weeks after the Beirut blast, Lebanon’s future is dark. Caused by up to 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate irresponsibly stored in the port for more than six years, the explosion killed as many as 180 people, injured 7,000 others, and destroyed 10,000 buildings – around one-third of the city. But rather than acting as a positive jolt to the system as some hoped, the catastrophe has only thrust Lebanon deeper into crisis. 

After responding to the devastating explosion, SEMA US is focusing on restocking medical supplies, strengthening measures against Covid-19, and providing psychosocial support.

Physical wounds have been treated, but the catastrophe and the sudden loss of basic security have done extensive damage to the mental health of people affected. Many patients have asked for sedatives to get over the next twenty-four hours. Our specialists deployed in Lebanon are helping provide psychosocial care for these trauma victims.

SEMA US is also worried that the recent tragedy could lead to an increase in the already rising number of Covid-19 cases in Lebanon.

We are responding in the aftermath of the massive explosion that occurred in Beirut, Lebanon on Tuesday, August 4, 2020. The explosion damaged buildings across a wide swath of the city, leaving many homes without windows or doors. Many people do not want to leave their homes out of security concerns. Volunteers are handing out food packages, visiting vulnerable people and bringing them essential supplies. They also continue to assist in the cleanup efforts.

SEMA US has just started delivering lifesaving healthcare services to vulnerable Syrian refugees and host communities in Lebanon this year.

August 27, 2020

COVID-19 outbreak in northwestern Syria threatens displaced people and health workers

Since the first case of COVID-19 was confirmed in northwestern Syria in July, many additional people have tested positive in the area—more than half of whom are health care workers from the few remaining functional hospitals. SEMA US is concerned that the outbreak threatens to overwhelm a regional health system that is barely functioning after more than nine years of war.

The fact that the first confirmed COVID-19 cases come from the medical community is worrying. 

Just a few doctors temporarily put out of work and staying in isolation can make a huge difference when it comes to access to healthcare. 

Prior to the outbreak, human resources were already very limited in the health sector: Many doctors have fled the war in Syria, and hospitals often have to share medical personnel to remain open and function.

Two hospitals temporarily closed their doors after medics who had visited the hospitals tested positive for COVID-19. All medical personnel were asked to either self-isolate at home or to stay in quarantine, the hospitals said.

However, services were already reduced in some other hospitals in northwestern Syria. At the beginning of the outbreak, local health authorities asked hospitals to temporarily suspend all services in outpatient departments (OPDs) and non-essential surgeries. There have been occasions when some OPDs have already been closed for weeks in response to alerts or fears about COVID-19. Of course it is important to take precautionary measures, but this is a region that does not have the luxury of extra medical capacity to take on the burden of such measures. The fact that essential services have been temporarily closed or reduced and that we are facing even more human resources shortages than before the pandemic is extremely worrying.

The infected medics were working in several health facilities in Azaz district, in Aleppo governorate, and Sarmada and Ad-Dana districts, in Idlib governorate, so it is likely that the virus may have spread from what was thought to be a localized cluster of cases to a much larger area.

Doctors following the positive cases say testing and contact tracing is underway to attempt to isolate and prevent further spread of the virus. This is particularly important in northwestern Syria, where at least 2.7 million people are displaced, most of whom are living in overcrowded camps or makeshift shelters. 

Water and sanitation conditions there are dire, and physical distancing is impossible.

There is a real issue of testing capacity in northwestern Syria. Very few tests are available, and the accelerated testing because of these confirmed cases is fast depleting the available test kits. If these run out, there is a chance of fast spread in the camps that will be impossible to track and halt. And this poses alarming consequences for the most vulnerable people—the elderly and people with chronic diseases—who must be prioritized for the distribution of hygiene kits and other measures to protect them against the virus.

August 20, 2020

What’s Next for Lebanon?

The twin explosions at Beirut’s port on 4th of August were so powerful that the aftershocks reverberated as far as the Eastern Mediterranean island of Cyprus, 150 miles away. The specter of fire and smoke was such that many suggested on social media that Beirut had experienced a nuclear blast.

In the days ahead, more details will come to light about why a deadly cache of materials was haphazardly stashed at a port warehouse, and why Lebanon’s government failed to secure the site. So, what comes next for crisis-ridden Lebanon?

The timing could not be worse. 

In recent weeks, Lebanon, one of the world’s most indebted countries, has spiraled into chaos after decades of economic mismanagement.

Crime is spiking as desperate Lebanese seek scarce basics like food and medicine, while others are turning to a swarming online barter economy to survive — clothes for baby formula? The deepening economic crisis recently pushed at least 500,000 children in Beirut into poverty, an aid group warned in July.

International observers, meanwhile, have questioned whether Lebanon has already breached the “failed state” threshold.

International support

So far, many countries have offered Beirut urgent humanitarian aid in the form of generators, medical equipment and personnel, and even some cash. SEMA US, for its part, is sending medical teams to for survivors, while keeping the rest of its core services active and open to everyone.

While immediate humanitarian support has been forthcoming — and encouraging — the aid itself is unlikely to pull Lebanon back from the brink. There are several reasons for this.

Humanitarian aid is one thing, but financial lifelines are another. 

Even before the pandemic crippled the global economy, the World Bank predicted that 50 percent of Lebanese could be living below the poverty line if current trends continued. Hoping to stave off its worst economic crisis since the 15-year civil war ended in 1990, Beirut has since appealed to international creditors like the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a whopping $10 billion in financial assistance, but the IMF has refused to play ball.

The Corona Revolution

On top of the explosion, Lebanon is also dealing with the coronavirus pandemic, and the immediate short-term future is looking especially grim for ordinary people.

The country recorded its highest number of new coronavirus cases and deaths, with doctors expecting the number to rise due to overcrowding in hospitals following the blast.

The blast stunned a nation already reeling from an economic crisis and We’re trying to see how to best adapt our projects under such circumstances.

August 14, 2020

SEMA US reaches out after massive Beirut Explosion

Immediately after a devastating blast rocked Beirut, Lebanon, on August 4, some SEMA US staff who were already working in the country went to health facilities to see how they could assist medics responding to the emergency. SEMA US is organizing a donation of wound kits and treating people injured by the blast. We are also evaluating whether patients who need further surgery can be referred to and treated in one of our hospitals after they have been stabilized. We are assessing the most pressing needs in hospitals and identifying additional ways we can assist people under such tragic circumstances.

The massive explosion that occurred one week ago ripped through Beirut’s port warehouses, killing more than 150 people and injuring more than 6,000. The blast generated seismic shockwaves that shook the ground, shattering windows and destroying buildings across Beirut, a city already reeling from an economic crisis and a surge in COVID-19 infections.

On the night of the explosion, there was a huge influx of patients into health facilities across the capital, and infection and prevention measures could not be implemented properly, which eventually led to this increase. Over 300,000 people lost their homes [in the explosion] and have had to find other places to stay, which doesn’t make things any easier. This rise of cases is a major concern for us and we’re trying to see how to best adapt our projects under such circumstances.

What we can say today is that the situation in Beirut is still completely catastrophic—with people that are still missing. Search and rescue operations are still ongoing, looking for people that are still trapped in the rubble of their homes.

Hospitals in Beirut are still completely overwhelmed, not being able to cope with the thousands of wounded that have come to the hospitals.

We stand in solidarity: sending much courage to those wounded and traumatized, sending our condolences to families that lost loved ones.

Visit this link to know how you can help: https://www.launchgood.com/campaign/lebanon_explosion_emergency_medical_relief#!/

August 6, 2020

MASSIVE EXPLOSION IN BEIRUT COMPOUNDS LEBANON’S DIRE SITUATION

A massive explosion rocked Beirut on Tuesday, flattening much of the port, damaging buildings across the capital and sending a giant mushroom cloud into the sky.

In the hours after the explosion that shook the whole world, leaving at least 100 people dead and more than 4,000 injured, Palestinian and Syrian refugees living in and on the outskirts of Beirut, Lebanon leapt into action, offering their homes and their blood to those in need.

Lebanon’s Prime Minister Hassan Diab said the blast was caused by more than 2,700 tonnes of ammonium nitrate, which had been left unsecured at a warehouse near Beirut’s port for six years. Investigations are still underway, however, to determine what led up to the explosion.

People living at the Shatila refugee camp in Beirut also extended the same offer, hoping to provide refuge for those in need. Palestinian and Syrian refugees had also begun donating blood, hoping to help the thousands of victims injured in the blast, with many left critically injured by the explosion.

Knowing what it is like to feel “scared” and “with no place to go,” many refugees living in and on the outskirts of Beirut have rushed to help the thousands of people displaced by and injured in the explosion.

They know first hand what it means to not be able to sleep under a proper roof at night; they’ve experienced wars one generation after the other; they know how it feels to be scared and hungry with no place to go. So, their instinct is to offer all that when they see others going through it.

Meanwhile, SEMA US has also been working alongside Lebanese humanitarian organizations to support those affected by the explosion, as an outpouring of international support continues to flood into Lebanon. 

Our healthcare center in Bekaa, Lebanon will continue to serve the refugees and people in need, and it is open for all of those who need help.

Our heartfelt condolences go to the families who have lost their dear ones. Our thoughts are with those who are hurt and injured.

We stand in solidarity with the people of Beirut and Lebanon in these tragic and testing times.

July 30, 2020

Hope in Hard Places: Offering Prayers for Syria

More than 6.2 million people are now internally displaced within Syria, and more than 5.6 million have fled to neighboring countries as refugees. Syrians desperately hope for peace. Their children shouldn’t have to grow up in a war zone or as refugees. Offer a prayer for Syria, whose people are enduring their 10th year of civil war and displacement.

Pray for life-saving assistance and newfound hope for Syrian refugees.

Syrian families have been uprooted from their homes by the fighting, displaced in their own country, or fleeing to neighboring countries for safety.

Many Syrians lived comfortable, middle-class lives before they left. But when families flee in the middle of bombings and other violence, they don’t have the luxury of taking all their possessions. They arrive at refugee camps lacking clothes, shoes, food, water, toiletries, blankets, and even their government-issued identification papers, which makes it even more challenging to get assistance. They have nothing to help them survive.

Pray for children’s protection.

Syrian children face many safety and wellness issues. They’re especially susceptible to malnutrition, dehydration, and diarrheal diseases. Because of the Syrian health system’s deterioration, many have not been immunized or kept current on vaccinations, and outbreaks of measles and polio have occurred both in Syria and in refugee camps. Due to the nature of living in chaotic, overcrowded, and unfamiliar situations, children also are more vulnerable to abuse and exploitation.

Many children also must work, which leaves them open to other dangers. Without income, parents may marry their daughters off as young as 13.

Pray for education for the children of Syria.

Many refugee families can’t afford rent, let alone school fees, uniforms, and books. If lucky enough to attend school, child refugees often find it difficult to enroll and participate in classes not in their native language. Meanwhile, millions of children in Syria can’t attend class because schools are in ruins, teachers are missing or deceased, and security is a concern. The education of an entire generation of Syrians is at risk.

Pray that people worldwide will respond to this humanitarian crisis.

Now on its 10th year, the Syrian war and the chaos it has bred have become background noise to many people — even those who consider themselves compassionate. The consequences of the conflict keep many caring individuals at a comfortable distance. But there is an urgent need for donors to allocate funds to meet this humanitarian emergency, for people to raise a cry of prayer and support for people in desperate circumstances, and for all of us to find a way to engage meaningfully for the sake of Syrian children and their families.

We have no idea how hard it is for them to be living in tents yet refuse to give in to despair. What gives them hope is seeing people from all over the world caring enough to help.

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