Translating Humanitarian Emergency into Medical Aid in Syria

Claire Glasscoe


A new patient introduces himself to his Ophthalmologist at the Orient for Human Relief outpatient clinic
in Reyhanli, Turkey with a CT scan of the trauma to his eyes.

Translating Humanitarian Emergency into Medical Aid in Syria - an ethnography

One approach to promoting humanitarian aid in a war zone is to assist from a safe distance outside the field of conflict. I am working with and documenting those providing such aid to the beleaguered people of Syria - healthcare services for Syrians by Syrians. This project explores three strategies for minimising the more destructive effects of the conflict and maximising the resilience and recovery of those affected:

1. Prevention - infection control and reducing the risk of injury from explosive and biological weapons
2. First response - trauma surgery and first aid in a conflict zone
3. Rehabilitation - remedial response after physical injury (amputation or damaged eyesight) and psychological trauma (PTSD) to promote recovery and independent living in the longer term

These components of medical care are set within a unique context by the nature of this particular conflict. How healthcare facilities and the training of its staff have had to adapt to this situation is crucial to the delivery of care. The hostile environment inside Syria involves hazards in delivering a medical service of any kind. It also generates advocacy and protective agents that have emerged to ensure medical services do happen despite the difficulties or document human rights abuses when they don't. For all the ordinary people caught up in this conflict, challenges include the logistics of travelling within a conflict zone to access healthcare, managing the danger of arrest and imprisonment, locating a place of refuge when their home has been destroyed all while holding on to a cultural and spiritual life that gives meaning to a person's very being in this world and the hereafter.

My position is that of someone from another culture that I believe holds responsibility for failing to stop this humanitarian disaster. My focus is one of asking questions, trying to understand and make sense of something that was outside my experience before 2011. The stories I have recorded have been gathered in an opportunistic way from places on the border-zone where healthcare is provided to Syrians, free at the point of delivery. I have constructed twelve themes as a framework:

        First Response
        Education & Training
        Healthcare Facilities
        Human Rights Violations
        Spiritual Life
        Advocacy & Protection

I have given this project the acronym THEMA. THEMA SYRIA is in progress and more parts of the wider story will be made available here on this purpose built website as they develop. It will be presented in English and Arabic as a tapestry of experiences drawn from Syrian people with varying amounts of detail and there will be links to further reading for those that are interested. All the narrative accounts have been audio-recorded and interpreted, where necessary then transcribed. Images are my own apart from those in the Background section that are anonymous open source or have a by-line for someone else.