Around 65,400 people—more than 90 per cent of whom are women and children—live in Al-Hol camp, the largest camp for displaced people in northeast Syria. Most of these people were displaced during the nine-year conflict which has devastated the country’s health system. Al-Hol is a closed camp, surrounded by barbed-wire fencing and with heavily-guarded entrances preventing people from coming in or out of the camp. With an average of seven people squeezed into each tent, the camp is very overcrowded.
As the coronavirus spread across the Middle East region, MSF continued to run our inpatient therapeutic feeding centre, wound care program and water and sanitation services in the camp until restrictions were implemented. Of the 24 primary healthcare clinics in the camp, only five are currently operational due to the pandemic restrictions. The consequences of this lack of healthcare are devastating—in just one week in August, seven children under the age of five died.
Since late July, when MSF clinics were allowed to reopen, we have seen more than 1,000 patients. Thankfully some limited services have been able to restart, but it is unclear how long this can be sustained.
“We have just heard about the first confirmed case of COVID-19 among Al-Hol residents,” says Will Turner, MSF Emergency Manager for Syria. “Al-Hol camp is not well prepared for an outbreak of COVID-19. We are worried about what will happen next.”
MSF has been working to provide targeted health awareness messages on how to stop COVID-19 from spreading, but with people living so close to one another some measures, like physical distancing, are impossible to implement.
Our teams have identified 1,900 people across Al-Hol camp who will be particularly vulnerable to COVID-19, many of whom have non-communicable diseases, such as diabetes, hypertension, asthma or heart conditions. We are providing these people with the medicines they need, as well as with soap and other essential items that they can’t go out to buy for themselves.