Beyond Borders

MSF provides healthcare to Syrians crossing into Iraqi Kurdistan


Médecins Sans Frontières reports that Syrian refugees are crossing the border into Iraqi Kurdistan in huge numbers, with more than 42,300 passing through the Peshkabour border crossing in a single week since it reopened on 15 August. Teams from the international medical organisation Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) have set up health posts on both sides of the border, providing medical consultations and distributing water to refugees waiting to be transferred to five transit camps which are currently being set up in Erbil and Sulaymaniya governorates.

“The refugees report having fled Syria from a variety of locations after hearing that the border had reopened after being closed for several months,” says Paul Yon, MSF’s head of mission in Dohuk, “but in recent days, the majority reported fleeing their homes around the city of Al-Malikiyah (also known as Derek) following sporadic aerial bombardments a few days ago.”

On the Iraqi side of the border, MSF is providing healthcare consultations to refugees waiting to be transferred to Erbil and Sulaymaniya. “The majority of patients are children, pregnant women and mothers who are suffering from moderate dehydration due to the long distances they’ve had to walk or the long waiting time before crossing the border. We are also seeing a lot of cases of asthma.” The number of consultations is increasing daily, said Yon.

MSF teams have been working in the Domiz refugee camp in Dohuk governorate since May 2012, home to 42,000 Syrian refugees, providing general healthcare and mental health services. MSF also plans to assess the needs of some 70,000 refugees who have settled in the city of Dohuk.

3,600 patients display neurotoxic symptoms

MSF released this statement on August 24: Three hospitals in Syria’s Damascus governorate that are supported by the international medical humanitarian organisation Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) have reported to MSF that they received approximately 3,600 patients displaying neurotoxic symptoms in less than three hours on the morning of Wednesday, August 21, 2013. Of those patients, 355 reportedly died.

Since 2012, MSF has built a strong and reliable collaboration with medical networks, hospitals and medical points in the Damascus governorate, and has been providing them with drugs, medical equipment and technical support. Due to significant security risks, MSF staff members have not been able to access the facilities.

“Medical staff working in these facilities provided detailed information to MSF doctors regarding large numbers of patients arriving with symptoms including convulsions, excess saliva, pinpoint pupils, blurred vision and respiratory distress,” said Dr Bart Janssens, MSF director of operations. Patients were treated using MSF-supplied atropine, a drug used to treat neurotoxic symptoms. MSF is now trying to replenish the facilities’ empty stocks and provide additional medical supplies and guidance.

“MSF can neither scientifically confirm the cause of these symptoms nor establish who is responsible for the attack,” said Dr Janssens. “However, the reported symptoms of the patients, in addition to the epidemiological pattern of the events – characterized by the massive influx of patients in a short period of time, the origin of the patients, and the contamination of medical and first aid workers – strongly indicate mass exposure to a neurotoxic agent. This would constitute a violation of international humanitarian law, which absolutely prohibits the use of chemical and biological weapons.”

In addition to 1,600 vials of atropine supplied over recent months, MSF has now dispatched 7,000 additional vials to facilities in the area. Treatment of neurotoxic patients is now being fully integrated into MSF’s medical strategies in all its programmes in Syria.

 Date of upload: 20th Sep 2013


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