April 28, 2017

Stopped eight times by the army as well as various uniformed officials for scheduled security checks at Beirut airport alone, one can sense the tense atmosphere in this country. 25% of Lebanon’s population is now Syrian refugees. It’s a country surrounded by decades of conflict with Palestine in the south and Syria in the north and east. The numerous road side army check points belonging to various factions at times prolonged our journeys to the refugee camps by many hours. Having to divert over higher altitude over mountains due to roadblocks by the military resulting in altitude sickness and trying to avoid road traffic caused by national strikes all needed tremendous patience and perseverance at times. As a medical team united for a common purpose, we pulled through. There’s many examples to suggest this country is preparing for civil war. However there’s areas of wealth and affluence which is understandable why Lebanon is labelled as a country of contradictions. With its history of bloody conflicts and the devastating humanitarian disaster in neighboring Syria, it may be the reason why Lebanese people are resisting the fertile conditions for conflict on their own soil.

As one Lebanese doctor told me: “we’ve simply had enough of wars”. Unfortunately we failed to reach some refugee areas which are surrounded by militant factions such as Hezbollah and the Lebanese army. There is frustration at Saudi Arabia for spreading extreme forms of Islam which created ISIS. There’s anger here also directed at Iran for spreading Persian Shiism in Lebanon by bribing Hezbollah with financial and military help if they fight for Assad. Indeed there’s immense complexities in this region and it’s impossible to disentangle them in a single post.

The condition of the Syrian refugees in Lebanon is the most desperate and neglected in the Middle East. Almost every refugee has a war injury, from chemical attacks to bombing raids inside Syria resulting in lifelong disabilities. Their living conditions are some of the most basic and poor sanitation; resulting in some diarrheal diseases, skin infections and stunted growth in most children as nutrition is limited. The long duration of our journeys to camps for various reasons such as challenging terrain, political instability, security barriers and general aversion to refugees making up 25% of this country may be the reason why access to help has been limited for these poor people.

As a team we managed to carry out the following medical interventions within a week:

199 surgeries
1397 consultations
total benefiaries 1596 patients
23 urology surgery
19 Genral Surgery
122ENT surgery
62 Cardiography
19 GI endoscopy
2 broncoscopy
735 Internal and Family Medicine consultations.
85 Endocrinology consultions
60 urology consultions
37 GI consultions
52 General Surgery consultions
49 Pulmonary consultations
30 Vascular surgery consultions.
272 ENT consultions
15 Nephrology consultions

I thank the dedicated SAMS team on the ground for their immense hard work and sacrifice to keep our medical team as safe as possible and I’m deeply thankful to Dr. Mufaddal Hamadeh for allowing me to shadow his immense aura of leadership. Once again SAMS has proven they are the most dedicated, hardworking and honest organisation in the Middle East.

Landing back in London, the border control officer asked me why I was in Lebanon. I told him the reason and he wanted to know about the conditions of the refugees. After describing them he replied: “thank you for your hard work”. I’ll be honest it felt good.

Once again, it was a privilege to serve the Syrian people with a team of gifted souls.

By Dr. Naveed Iqbal

SAMS Medical Missions Volunteer