The challenges and our response
The war in Syria is now more than a decade old. Relentless armed conflict has left an estimated 500,000 dead and caused more than half the country’s pre-war population of 21 million to flee their homes, with them now either displaced inside Syria or living as refugees outside the country.
International Medical Corps has operated inside Syria since 2008, first supporting Iraqi refugees and vulnerable local populations. We later expanded our work to respond to the needs of those caught up elsewhere in the conflict, which has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives and sparked the largest population exodus since World War II, with 6.6 million displaced inside Syria and another 5.5 million refugees in neighbouring countries.
On the front lines, International Medical Corps has been helping those displaced in and around Damascus since the start of the conflict. We later expanded our work to respond to the needs of those caught up elsewhere in the conflict.
Simultaneously, we continue to support tens of thousands of the 5.6 million Syrians who have sought refuge in neighbouring countries, including Lebanon, Iraq and Jordan. In addition, when the door briefly opened for refugees to enter Europe, International Medical Corps was there to assist them as they landed on Greek island beaches following oft-perilous journeys across the Mediterranean.
With operations based in Damascus, in 2020 International Medical Corps:
- Performed 210,026 primary healthcare consultations, including 25,588 (15.2%) of those for children below 5 years of age
- Screened 30,719 children for malnutrition
- Provided more than 400 people with specialised mental health and psychosocial support
- Reached more than 1,000 people with psychosocial activities
- Provided hygiene non-food items to almost 160,016 people and 1,639 mobility aid items
- Provided 547,364 pieces of personal protective equipment and infection prevention and control items
- Reached more than 40,000 people with COVID-19 awareness messaging
- Trained 288 local volunteers and workers in health and hygiene promotion as well as WASH, strengthening the area’s capacity for resilience
Our teams respond to ongoing emergencies and to the enormous needs of families fleeing Syria’s widespread violence, providing them with increased access to primary healthcare services. International Medical Corps regularly distributes relief supplies, including vital personal protective equipment and infection prevention and control items, to tens of thousands of people, including medical aids for people suffering from physical disabilities such as wheelchairs, walkers, air mattresses and toilet chairs, and hygiene items, including soap, shampoo and diapers.
The war has taken a tremendous toll on Syria’s healthcare system, damaging and destroying hospitals and clinics, and causing countless doctors and nurses to flee the country. Health facilities that are still functioning struggle with limited supplies and equipment, as well as shortages of qualified staff, who can be overburdened and unable to deal with the surge in caseloads when nearby clinics are damaged.
In coordination with the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC), International Medical Corps currently supports three static primary healthcare clinics, five mobile medical units and two mobile medical clinics, which are staffed with additional technical personnel. All these facilities provide vital primary healthcare services to Syrian families, including preventive and curative care for communicable and non-communicable diseases, mother and child health, reproductive health services, individual and group health education sessions, and early child development programming. We also provide financial support for those affected by life- and disability-threatening conditions through referrals to contracted private hospitals and follow-up services. Even with the COVID-19 pandemic, International Medical Corps adapted to the new challenges and focused on continuing its services.
Mental Health and Psychosocial Support
The war has exposed Syrian families to extreme levels of violence. They have lost loved ones, livelihoods and homes. To help Syrians cope with emotional distress and trauma, International Medical Corps integrates MHPSS into our healthcare services. Our Jaramana Recreational Activity Center (RAC), in Rural Damascus Governorate, and a mobile MHPSS/protection team offer a wide range of recreational and educational activities to provide psychosocial support to children and families. This support includes programs specifically designed to engage youth, as well as a rehabilitation program for children with development delays and disorders.
International Medical Corps includes protection principles in all of our programs, delivering focused gender-based violence (GBV) prevention and response programs to address specific protection needs in Syria and to provide care and support for survivors. We provide case management in healthcare clinics, and conduct awareness and information campaigns in open communities, displacement shelters and at the Jaramana RAC. In addition, in collaboration with accredited institutions, International Medical Corps offers vocational training and business startup kits to vulnerable displaced and local populations, helping to build resilience and restore livelihoods.
Water, Sanitation and Hygiene
International Medical Corps runs hygiene promotion campaigns in displacement shelters, schools and communities in an effort to prevent disease outbreaks and keep vulnerable families healthy. We also distribute hygiene kits and other basic materials to help people stay clean and healthy. In addition, International Medical Corps has developed a training manual on hygiene-education concepts and has developed training materials and tools tailored to the Syrian context, which other relief organizations inside Syria have adopted. We have updated these materials to increase awareness about COVID-19.
Training and Capacity Building
International Medical Corps is the lead organization in Syria providing training for frontline health workers delivering mental health and psychosocial services, for those delivering COVID-19 services and for those working to promote proper hygiene. Since 2015, International Medical Corps has conducted technical training and capacity-building activities, reaching more than 3,000 Syrian responders. Such training directly supports our mission to foster self-reliance amongst populations affected by war and disaster.
Syrian Refugee Response in Jordan
In Jordan’s Azraq refugee camp, home to nearly 38,000 Syrian refugees, International Medical Corps provides medical care in three primary healthcare clinics and a hospital camp, which provide an average of more than 10,000 and 6,600 consultations per month, respectively. International Medical Corps recently began providing primary healthcare and emergency care services in Zaatari camp through one primary healthcare clinic and one emergency room that is open around the clock.
We offer MHPSS at both International Medical Corps and Ministry of Health facilities. A multidisciplinary team comprising psychiatrists, psychologists, mental health nurses and case managers provides mental health services and psychosocial activities. We engage children and youth with mental health concerns in structured activities to relieve their concerns and improve their psychological and social well-being. In addition, International Medical Corps runs a safe space for women and girls in Azraq camp where protection measures are in place to help prevent GBV.
Syria Refugee Response in Lebanon
International Medical Corps provides a comprehensive package of essential services in Lebanon, home to nearly 1.5 million Syrian refugees. We support a network of more than 50 primary healthcare centres throughout the country that offers a wide range of curative and preventive healthcare through routine physical examinations, pediatric check-ups, growth monitoring, immunization and reproductive health services, including maternal health and family planning.
We integrate mental health services into primary healthcare in a culturally sensitive manner to improve access among Syrian refugees and residents of the local Lebanese host community. Mental health case management teams, consisting of social workers, psychotherapists and psychiatrists, work with local partners to ensure that services are available for those in need of psychiatric, psychological and social support. At the community level, case managers play a key role in raising awareness of the importance of mental health and in providing information about available support services.