By Monica Awad
JARAMANA, Syria, 21 July 2008 – Noujoud Moh’d is a Palestinian refugee residing in the Jaramana camp in Syria. Like the other 5,000 refugees living in the official camp – as well as the nearly 17,000 living outside in an unofficial camp – she and her family endure overcrowded housing, poverty and limited work opportunities.
Her husband is sick and unemployed, so Ms. Moh’d is forced to leave her five children early every day to work as a street seller to feed her family. “Our situation is very bad. I have to work on a daily basis in the crowded streets of Damascus to earn a few pounds,” she said with despair in her eyes.
Ms. Moh’d, who did not complete her schooling, relies on the assistance of United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) to provide food aid and cash assistance to meet her family’s basic needs. These services constitute a central resource for most families here, which they have no means of replacing.
She also relies on UNRWA’s free medical care. While Palestinian refugees have free access to all governmental health facilities, 85 per cent still use the 23 health centres run by UNRWA.
Genetic screening and education
At the Jaramana clinic, Dr. Hassan Arab and his team educate mothers and caregivers on how to detect a sick child and when to seek medical care. The sessions include educational materials on the implications of consanguineous (inter-family) marriages, which are common in the camps. They also stress the importance of leaving adequate recovery time between pregnancies.
Consanguineous marriages cause increased rates of congenital blood disorders. “These diseases are hereditary and fatal within the first 20 years of life without extensive medical care,” said Dr. Hassan.
To help address the problem, Dr. Hassan has appointed a physician to provide genetic counselling and follow up on sickle cell and other cases of blood disorder.
Role of proper feeding
The infant mortality rate is relatively low among Palestinian refugees in Syria. One in forty children under five among the Palestinian refugees is reportedly severely underweight. There is also a high prevalence of anaemia among children and pregnant women.
Low birth weight, congenital malformations and acute respiratory infections are the leading causes of infant deaths.
“Families are not aware that it is through proper feeding and not through medicine that we can solve this problem,” said Dr. Hassan.
UNICEF provides support
UNICEF partners with UNRWA and the General Authority for Palestinian Arab Refugees to provide the camps in Syria with the necessary vaccinations and cold-chain equipment to store and preserve supplies of vaccines.
In addition, UNICEF has trained almost 140 health workers and provided physiotherapy equipment to four UNRWA community rehabilitation centres, among other support. Basic health care and medical knowledge provided by UNICEF helps improve the lives of mothers and children already struggling in a landscape of unemployment, poverty and overcrowding.