Medical Mission to Jordan: After more than a decade of Civil War in Syria, and continuing conflicts like the unprovoked Russian invasion of Ukraine that further displaced millions of civilians, understanding the longterm conditions that war refugees face remains relevant. But as public attention fades, such topics do not capture headlines today, even as the impact continues to be felt here in Milwaukee.

As the Syrian Civil War enters its 11th year, it remains one of the worst humanitarian crisis in modern times. More than half a million civilians have been killed. Nearly 6.2 million people displaced internally, with over 5.6 million refugees in neighboring countries and beyond. The conflict uprooted half of Syria’s total population.

The Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS) has been working on the frontlines of crisis relief since 2011. SAMS mainly operates in Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, and Türkiye. Inside Syria, SAMS provides medical care and relief delivery, supporting over 110 medical facilities and more than 3,000 medical personnel.

SAMS has worked to serve the medical conditions of patients in need, regardless of religious background, race, ethnicity, or political affiliation. In 2017, SAMS expanded its operations in Bangladesh and Egypt to meet growing medical needs. Sadly, Syrian children continue to face the brunt of the conflict.

SAMS members and volunteers from the United States and around the world frequently participate in medical missions to Jordan, in support of ongoing medical relief programs there. The missions allow medical professionals of different specialties to volunteer their skills, and provide dignified care to those in need. They also create opportunities to give back to the local Jordanian community, by offering free services to rural residents unable to afford healthcare.

Through specialized efforts like the January 2023 medical mission in Jordan, SAMS works to fill the gaps in healthcare. With the help of SAMS’s regional office in Amman, and in cooperation with various agencies of the Jordanian government, SAMS Volunteers were involved with medical programs in several cities across Jordan. In addition, the SAMS-supported clinic within Za’atari Camp served Syrian refugees of all ages with medical needs.

Since the Syrian conflict began in 2011, more than 12 million Syrians, or half of Syria’s pre-conflict population, have been forced to leave their homeland. About 5.6 million Syrians have fled, mainly to Türkiye, Lebanon, Jordan, and Iraq. Another 6.5 million Syrians have been displaced within Syria, with the majority living in impoverished and informal settlements, with limited access to basic necessities.

The humanitarian situation for Syrians remains dire. In northwest Syria, before the 7.8 magnitude earthquake hit on February 6, 2023, at least 3 million displaced Syrians struggled to access food, water, sanitation, healthcare, shelter, clothing, and hygiene items. At least 11 million people in Syria are in need of humanitarian assistance, including 5 million children. More than 80% of Syrians live in extreme poverty, on less than $1.90 a day.

The extent of the earthquake damage and medical needs has yet to be calculated. But the disaster occurred when the Syrian government’s capacity to respond to such an emergency and maintain the effort was almost non-existent.

Syrian civilians continue to be subjected to systematic attacks on healthcare and, leading to loss of life, loss of access to healthcare, and attrition of skilled health care workers. Denying access to healthcare as a tool of war is illegal according to international law, yet it has become a hallmark of the Syrian crisis and continues with impunity.

Medical services provided during the “Dr. Majdi Omar” SAMS Jordan January 2023 Medical Mission included internal medicine, dermatology, pulmonary, pediatrics, rheumatology, gastroenterology, cardiology, neurology and sleep medicine, pain management, and physical rehabilitation. Interventional care included interventional cardiology, reconstructive surgery, ophthalmology surgery, gastrointestinal endoscopy, dental surgeries pediatric, oral and maxillofacial surgeries, and dental interventions.

Dr. Bassel Atassi, leader of the SAMS January 2023 Medical Mission, said that the partnership between the Syrian American Association and the Jordanian Ministry of Health was very important. It was also represented by many successful medical programs and public activities as a result of the joint cooperation, which offered a great benefit to local communities.

“The combined teamwork between SAMS and the Ministry of Health is of strategic importance, especially concerning the development of programs and activities such as the integration of rehabilitation and psychological support services through the ministry’s comprehensive health centers, in addition to receiving cases transferred by the ministry to the SAMS medical mission.” – Dr. Bassel Atassi, SAMS Mission Leader

Over the six day medical mission, from January 21 to 26, 2023, Dr. Atassi coordinated the involvement of 34 medical professionals, 18 interpreters and assistants, 6 interventional teams, and 90 Jordanian doctors and medical students.

SAMS medical care was provided at more than a dozen locations and facilities, such as the Middle East Hospital, Istishari Hospital, Gardenz Hospital, Abd Alhadi Hospital, Wade Alseer Clinic, Eye Specialty Hospital, SRD Center, Jerash Clinic, Marka Clinic, En Albasha Clinic, Irbid Hearing Aid Clinic, and Za’atari Camp.

Since 2015, SAMS has performed more than 2,600 surgeries in Jordan, with almost 67,000 consultations. For the January 2023 medical mission, SAMS provided services to 4273 beneficiaries. Of that total, 3834 were consultations in clinics with 439 surgeries.

For gender and age, 59% of patients were female and 41% male, with 36% being children and 64% adult aged. The majority of the medical attention was directed to Syrians with 59% of the population, however, Jordanians made up the other 38%.

Over the decade-long conflict, SAMS has documented and experienced both indiscriminate and targeted aerial attacks on the civilian population in Syria, through the use of barrel bombs, cluster bombs, airstrikes, and bunker-buster bombs.

Hospitals, medical workers, and ambulances have been specifically targeted in Syria. According to the Physicians for Human Rights (PHR), there have been over 595 documented attacks on healthcare on at least 350 medical facilities, killing over 923 medical workers as of February 2020. Those numbers have only increased since.

As a consequence of the constant threat of violence, thousands of physicians have been forced to flee Syria, leaving the healthcare infrastructure nearly decimated. Facilities are often severely understaffed, and health workers must endure long hours, often performing tasks outside their specialization and training. Hospitals have been characterized as the most dangerous places in Syria.

In addition, patients fear being attacked either in a health facility or on the way to receiving treatment, which can deter them from seeking life-saving care. Essential equipment and supplies have also become even more scarce due to systematic targeting.

Since 2011, SAMS has delivered more than 20 million medical services and $207 million in humanitarian aid. In northwest Syria, SAMS medical personnel work around the clock, delivering more than 188,000 medical services per month, including ongoing COVID-19 care.

“I appreciate the cooperation of all Jordanian authorities with the Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS), for the implementation and success of this medical mission. It has provided displaced Syrians and underserved Jordanians access to quality, life-saving operations, such as heart and neurological surgeries that are very difficult to afford.” – Dr. Ammar Ghanem, member of SAMS Board of Directors

Based in the United States, the Syrian American Medical Society Foundation, is a non-political, non-religious 501(c)(3) global medical relief organization that works on the frontlines of crisis relief in Syria and beyond to alleviate the suffering. The public is urged to support their lifesaving work with a charitable donation. Such contribution sill ensure that conflict-impacted populations receive the medical services they urgently need. For every dollar donated in 2021, 94 cents went directly to medical programs.

This editorial feature is one of a multi-part explanatory series about the “Dr. Majdi Omar” SAMS Jordan January 2023 Medical Mission. The journalism project embedded a Milwaukee Independent photojournalist, from January 21 to 26, 2023, with a group of Syrian American doctors from Milwaukee and Chicago. It documented their trip to Jordan and the medical work done at clinic locations like Za’atari Camp, Salt, Jerash, En Albasha and Marej in Amman, and Basma in Ma’adab. Medical Mission to Jordan: A journey from Milwaukee to help Syrian Refugees, shares the personal voices, stories, images, and conditions around those involved in the Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS) mission to Jordan. It also explores the refugee experience, and the intimate connections of local medical professionals, who put their work on hold and left their families behind for a couple weeks to provide healing to others who have endured a generation of trauma.

Series: Medical Mission to Jordan

The 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck parts of Syria and Türkiye on February 7. It came a week after the SAMS Medical Mission ended, and while Milwaukee Independent finished the final production of this editorial series. The public is encouraged to make donations to the Syrian American Medical Society in support of their vital crisis relief work.

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