News

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.

December 30, 2020

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.

December 16, 2020

Saving the Lives of Children with Thalassaemia in Lebanon

SEMA US teams in Lebanon have been treating children with thalassaemia. A genetic blood disorder, in its acute forms, thalassaemia requires intensive treatment that SEMA US provides in a pediatric clinic.

Thalassaemia is a hereditary disease caused by an alteration in the genes required to synthesise haemoglobin, the molecule that is responsible for carrying oxygen in the blood. Patients left untreated can have considerably shorter life expectancy. Treatment requires regular blood transfusions. However, this causes iron overload, leading to heart, liver and other diseases, so thalassaemia patients need iron chelation drugs.

It  is a difficult disease for any child to live with. It requires recurrent admissions – sometimes three times per month, recurrent needle pricks, taking medications every day for the rest of their lives and living with the complications of the disease. Children with thalassaemia have to deal with the pressure of leading lives that are different in many ways from their peers’, and of learning to manage a chronic condition.

But living with thalassaemia is even harder for refugee children in Lebanon, where access to public healthcare is extremely limited.

COVID-19, Beirut explosion, makes treatment more difficult

The collapse of the Lebanese economy, compounded by the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, has made it even more difficult for Syrian refugee families to access already overstretched public health services. The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted families of children with thalassaemia in many ways. 

Free treatment for refugees and vulnerable Lebanese

Our program is providing free-of-charge, comprehensive care to children, whatever their nationality. Most of the child patients today are Syrian refugees, though some come from vulnerable Lebanese families.

With the economic collapse in Lebanon and the financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic hitting vulnerable families the hardest, the need for the program to continue providing lifesaving care to these children is greater than ever.

November 28, 2020

Give the Gift of Healthcare This Giving Tuesday

This year has been one of the hardest years we’ve ever experienced. The truth is, life is kind of on hold due to the pandemic; but the other diseases still travel their path. Our current refugee patients have experienced the hardship on a level that many of us have not.

This #GivingTuesday, we encourage you to donate and help us give these refugee families in Lebanon an easier way of life in these tough times. 

The holidays this year may look different for many of us, but one thing remains the same: December 1 is a day to give.  And we’re so thankful you’re a part of this community that spreads hope around the world, even under these extraordinary circumstances.

As a supporter who is also committed to ensuring that underserved communities have access to health services, we hope you’ll take some time to learn about us and the people we serve.

Medical and support staff from SEMA US continue to provide essential health services where they’re needed most, despite challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic. In Lebanon, our teams overcome enormous obstacles to continue working safely. They face logistical challenges, local and global lockdown measures, and equipment shortages, all to continue SEMA US’ critical health care mission.

Countries need to use every tool available to make sure that COVID-19 medical products are accessible and affordable for everyone who needs them and this move would pave the way for more affordable generic versions of desperately needed drugs, vaccines, and diagnostics.

Your thoughtful participation  would go a long way. Mark your calendars for Giving Tuesday on December 1st!

November 19, 2020

Syrian refugee in Lebanon sets himself on fire

A Syrian refugee in Beirut was hospitalized after setting himself on fire outside the United Nations refugee agency’s reception center in the Lebanese capital.

In the tragic incident, he was rescued and immediately taken to hospital where he is receiving necessary medical care. The UNHCR’s office in Lebanon is following up closely on his condition and supporting his family in this difficult time.

The 58-year-old man was rescued by UNHCR security personnel and then transferred to a hospital by the Lebanese civil defense. A spokesperson for Lebanon’s Internal Security Forces told the news agency the man set himself on fire because he couldn’t afford to pay for his sick daughter’s medical treatment.

Lebanon hosts the world’s largest per capita population of Syrian refugees at 1.5 million. Because the Lebanese government does not provide formal camps for the refugees, most have ended up in poorly constructed residential buildings, rural settlements or improvised tents.

The country’s residency rules make it difficult for Syrian refugees to legally find work. Those who do tend to find jobs in low-skilled sectors where they are at risk of abuse and exploitation.

Their already poor conditions have been compounded by Lebanon’s ongoing financial crisis and the massive explosion that tore through Beirut in August. The coming winter weather has aid agencies warning the coronavirus could quickly spread among refugee populations where access to sanitation and health care is limited.

But for many refugees, the bigger threat is deportation. According to Human Rights Watch, the Lebanese government deported over 2,500 refugees to Syria in 2019 despite the continued conflict in their home country.

Over 5.6 million people have fled Syria since the start of the conflict in 2011. The UN estimates a further 6.6 million people are displaced within Syria.

November 12, 2020

Lebanon heading for total lockdown as health sector buckles

(Photo: AFP)

The Lebanese authorities will impose a two-week nationwide lockdown at the end of this week in the hope of suppressing the spread of Covid-19.

The lockdown will start at 05:00 local time on 14 November and last until 05:00 on 30 November. President Michel Aoun said the lockdown may be extended if the containment measures do not yield satisfactory results.

As of November 9, the total number of people infected with the virus was more than 95,000, with daily rates sometimes exceeding 2,000, while the number of deaths has reached 725. The number of COVID-19 cases during the first week of November alone hit 13,000, while the total number of cases in October exceeded 42,000 cases, the highest number recorded since the virus was first detected in Lebanon in February. 

Lebanon’s continued abandonment of taking strict measures to contain the spread of coronavirus will mean that no one will remain to treat those infected with the virus in hospitals. 17 doctors were in intensive care units, three doctors had died, and that 100 doctors were under home quarantine. The number of people infected in the medical and nursing body had reached 1,500. 

A Lebanon hospital specializing in receiving coronavirus cases has one infection in every 125 that leads to death and that figure rose to one in 10 among the elderly. 

(Photo: AFP)

Lebanon will enter a new phase of complete lockdown. Without it, the economic situation will worsen in light of the spread of the virus. But the idea of a complete lockdown for two weeks, or even a month, has provoked a negative reaction among the Lebanese public. The consensus is that a lockdown is useless without a clear strategy for the next steps.

The thing is we have yet to know the procedures that will accompany the closure, and the goal is to give the medical and nursing staff a chance to catch a breath.

November 4, 2020

Beirut Is a Shambles, and Syrian Refugees Are Willing to Help

International donors are wary—but the country’s most reviled residents are making the difference.

Syrian workers are rebuilding blast-hit areas in Beirut, one window at a time. Often reviled for allegedly burdening the civic infrastructure, stealing jobs, and living off subsidies meant for the Lebanese, Syrian refugees have shown up in Lebanon’s hour of need. They are building windows, repairing doors, painting houses, and replacing glass in high-rise apartment buildings—some of which belong to the same Lebanese who have long rooted for the refugees to leave.

For all their manual labor, they have received only a pittance—payment further devalued by a plummeting Lebanese pound that has lost 80 percent of its value since a year ago. But more bothersome for many is the continued lack of respect. Hardly any of the refugees toiling to resurrect Beirut to its former glory believe their contribution will be remembered.

Almost three months after thousands of tons of unsafely stored ammonium nitrate exploded at Beirut’s port and damaged many districts popular with locals and tourists, much of the city still lies in ruins. The international community has so far only provided minimal emergency aid

The efforts, numerous and well meant, fall far short of what is required to rebuild and revive the city. None has received any help from the government, and most have yet to receive support from international agencies.

As the political elite quarrels over ministries and the international community scrambles to help, Syrian workers are visible on the streets. Syrians, too, died in the catastrophe and left behind desperate families. At least 40 were killed in the blast, hundreds were injured, and eight are still hospitalized. The living conditions of Syrians in Lebanon deteriorated in tandem with their hosts, but since they were already the bottom rung of society, it pinched them harder.

These Syrian refugees are the very same people who have proved to be more reliable for home- and business owners who have, on their own, started to slowly repair their damaged properties.

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.

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