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COVID-19 response in Syria

Since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, Age International has been working with our local partner the Syrian Expatriate Medical Association (SEMA), to help ensure older Syrian refugees living in the camps are reached with vital aid and protected from the deadly virus. 

Background

The ongoing war has resulted in hundreds of thousands of people in northwestern Syria being forced to leave their homes in the last year alone. Many people are living in temporary shelters and inadequate conditions.  Additionally, health services are fragile and disrupted, inadequately prepared to detect or respond to the crisis. Overall hostilities in North West Syria continue to escalate, hampering the capacity of preparedness and ability to respond to this pandemic. As of December 2020, 28% of tests in camps came back as positive which is extremely concerning.

Our initial COVID-19 response

Last year we partnered with the Syrian Expatriate Medical Association (SEMA), to prepare for the virus and help reduce its spread. Outreach workers in key areas and refugee camps raised awareness of the virus and infection prevention, to help delay the peak of the infection so that health systems were better able to cope when it comes.

Programme activities included supporting effective coordination with health authorities and other partners, preparing health facilities, providing training and PPE for healthcare staff and setting up additional medically equipped facilities to treat patients.

Additionally, a community awareness-raising campaign was run in mosques, community centres and other key public areas alongside an online awareness-raising campaign targeting health workers.

Awareness raising

Outreach workers in refugee camps shared information on coronavirus and a campaign was run in mosques, community centres and other key public areas.

Support

We supported health authorities, and other partners, to adapt and set up new health facilities for patients with COVID-19.

Training and PPE

We provided training and PPE for healthcare staff so that they were equipped both physically and mentally for coronavirus.

Understanding older people's needs

Our partners in Syria, HelpAge International and SEMA, conducted a “Rapid Needs Assessment”, speaking to older people in northwest Syria, to understand how they were being affected by the pandemic and the restriction of movement in place there. The findings were worrying.

“I’m worried about the disease spreading to Northern Syria. We try to take precautions, but the water is not sterilized and transported through tanks filled with rust, and the camps are crowded with others who have had to leave their homes.”

Mrs Al-Khalaf, 60, Syria

Meeting the need

Thanks to the DEC Coronavirus appeal, we were able to raise funds to provide the help older people told us they needed.

We have continued to work with SEMA to further enhance community engagement to prevent and respond to the COVID-19 pandemic with a specific focus on older people including those with chronic illnesses, underlying health conditions and disabilities. The project has been implemented in 17 IDP camps of Northern Aleppo governorate (Al Bab and Azaz districts) and 40 camps of Idleb governorate (Harim and Idleb districts).

Initial DEC support reached 10,000 older people across 57  camps, particularly those with chronic illnesses, underlying health conditions and/or disabilities, with information and advice in a clear and accessible way.

Awareness

Community Health Workers communicated the most up to date guidance to older people and conducted follow up visits. Banners and posters in the community were displayed with the appropriate prevention and protection measures that need to be taken.

Additional support

Older people requiring additional support were identified, referred and provided transport to get to services. Some were also given psychological first aid. Those with additional psychological needs were referred to SEMA psychologists for specialist psychological support

Health system

We supported six health facilities, providing PPE to their triage and temporary isolation units. We also trained 30 heath staff on caring for, and communicating with, older people.

Our latest support

We are continuing to support older people by reducing our focus to 10 camps in order to build stronger relationships with camp management and local authorities to increase the quality of the programme.  Essential awareness raising and the provision of hygiene equipment has continued and Community Health Workers are continuing to carry out follow up visits. More protection and psychosocial care workers are available to offer specialist support and training is also being carried out to build the capacity of the project staff.

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