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Pediatric palliative care for chronically ill childrein in Syria

As the Syrian war enters into its ninth year, millions continue to suffer under a brutal conflict that has killed hundreds of thousands of people, displaced millions, and set back the standard of living. For many Syrian children living with chronic diseases, the war means not only coping with bombs, but also the challenge of their unmanaged health problems.

14-year-old Yusuf suffers from a chronic hepatic dysfunction that makes him physically weak and susceptible to other diseases. He is currently being treated in a pediatric hospital in Idlib, which Malteser International has been supporting since May 2018. Yusuf would need a liver transplant to make a full recovery. However, a complex procedure like that would be impossible giving the circumstances. Yusuf lives with his parents in Idlib, Syria's last major opposition stronghold. Access to medical care is difficult here as many hospitals and medical facilities have been destroyed in the war. The public health system has utterly collapsed.

Yusuf is now receiving some treatments at the Jabel al Zawiyah pediatric clinic in Idlib and so far these have had a positive effect on his physical and mental well-being.

"The clinic is not well equipped to completely cure Yusuf's severe metabolic disease,” says Dr. Salah Safadi of Malteser International. “But thanks to the palliative treatments he is receiving, he is showing significant improvements.”

Yusuf regularly receives antibiotics and blood plasma, but also minor surgical interventions to prevent severe internal bleeding. For Yusuf and many other chronically ill children and adolescents palliative treatment has become the difference between life and death. “Palliative treatments increase their chances of survival and reduces their suffering,” Dr. Safadi explains. The Jabel al Zawiyah Children's Hospital was founded in 2014 by the British-Syrian aid organization Hand in Hand. Since May 2018, Malteser International has been supporting operations at the clinic.

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Syria is facing immense humanitarian and medical needs. However, the complex security situation makes it difficult for international organizations to operate within the country with international personnel.

Malteser International is therefore working with local partner organizations in the country: "When selecting our partners, we not only consider their capacity to successfully execute projects, but we also attach great value to a common understanding of humanitarian principles," says Janine Lietmeyer, Head of Middle East at Malteser International. The joint programs are managed from Malteser International’s offices in Turkey.

“We work very closely with our partners and share information on a daily basis in order to respond quickly to possible developments. The partners from Hand in Hand are highly committed and competent and we know we can fully rely on them,” Lietmeyer says.

Despite his condition and the rather poor prospects at full recovery, Yusuf’s positivity, bravery, and hope are inspiring. He wants a future in which he can help others live in health. “I know what it means to feel pain,” the youngster says. “When I have overcome my illness, I will become a doctor so that I can make poor and sick people healthy again.”

(11-03-2019)

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