The international community considers Syria – and the effects on its population – to be the number one humanitarian crisis in the world today.The statistics are sobering.Since the civil war began in 2011, millions of Syrian civilians have been fleeing the conflict and its impact – destroyed homes, lack of food, jobs and health care.These uprooted civilians are now considered either Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) roaming the country looking for a safer, better life, or they have fled Syria to neighboring countries and are now refugees.
Turkey is hosting the largest number of Syrian refugees, with an estimated population of over 2 million within its borders. The refugees have been welcomed with open arms and Turkey is doing everything within its power to improve the plight of the refugees. Out of the 2 million, 350,000 have established homes within 23 camps. The rest have scattered across the country, from Ankara to Istanbul, with many populating non-camp urban refugee centers. The country’s incredible generosity is evident. Turkey quickly established an ID card system to help maintain visibility of those entering the country legally. The ID cards allow the Syrians free health care services in Turkish hospitals and offers the children opportunities for education.
But the massive influx of people into the health care system presents an enormous challenge. In addition to the traumatic war-related injuries that flood across the border daily, Syrian refugees are also introducing infectious diseases, from avian influenza to other viruses, and they are burdened by chronic diseases, such as diabetes, that have been left untreated for months or years due to the civil war. As troubling, is the lack of resources for psychosocial support and resiliency training and care. There is an estimated need of mental health care for over 50% of the refugees inside Turkey, with only 3% having access to care.
There are positive signs amid this crisis. Project HOPE, in partnership with the local Turkish NGO, ANSAGIAD, are working collaboratively with the Ministry of Health and Turkey’s Ministry for Disaster and Emergency Management (the Turkish version of the our FEMA) to provide support to the Syrian refugees within Turkey. While the health care services are free, the Ministry of Health does not have the budget to provide free medicines and medical supplies. As a result, the refugees are paying a large portion of their limited earnings on medicines. Recognizing this gap within the health care system, Project HOPE and ANSAGIAD continue to work to bring much-needed free, donated medicines into Turkey to fill this gap. To date, Project HOPE and ANSAGIAD have provided over USD $107 million in pharmaceuticals and consumables, with more shipments on the way. Metformin, the first-line drug of choice for Type-2 diabetes, was the largest component of the shipments, anti-anxiety medication, and vitamins.
The Syrian people have been extremely kind, thankful, and appreciative of Project HOPE’s support. Due to the incredible size and scale of HOPE’s operation, it was very important for our senior leadership to get a true sense of the program. So I am here in Turkey along with HOPE’s team of experts for one week to visit with key leadership and to see the impact we are making here.
We met with the CEO of ANSAGIAD, Mr. Kemal Yurtoglu, the Governor General for Syrian Refugee Affairs, Governor Veysel Dalmaz, the Ministry of Health’s Senior Syrian Refugee Coordinator, Mr. Ufuk Diri, and AFAD’s Head of Response Department, Mr. Fatih Ozer.All were so thankful for Project HOPE’s support and everyone agreed success would not be possible without the combined efforts of all.Later, we had the opportunity to tour three different homes in a non-camp Syrian urban host community within Ankara called Huseyin Gazi.We met multiple Syrian families, all of whom fled from Aleppo after the bombings, all of whom have at least one family member suffering from diabetes, and all of whom were – until recently – suffering from the extremely cold winter.
I was thrilled to see that each family was receiving free Metformin to help manage their diabetes. It’s very important that these tablets could be traced back to Project HOPE’s donation with the aid of Turkey’s high-tech electronic product donation monitoring system.Furthermore, Project HOPE and ANSAGIAD donated 200 household heaters to support refugees living in small, concrete flats holding as many as ten family members.These homes were now warm and inviting as we came in from the cold, where snow was blowing horizontally between the streets and alleys.We also donated small gift bags and backpacks to the children and spent a wonderful afternoon visiting with these beneficiaries.
There is hope in Turkey for Syrian refugees – and Project HOPE is committed, with ANSAGIAD and others, to support and sustain this effort to improve the plight of refugees.
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