July 20, 2017

Dr. Salim Saiyed has travelled extensively with SAMS on various medical missions as a Family Medicine doctor. But the conditions he saw in Lebanon were by far the most dire he has encountered on a mission trip.

“On the first day, we turned a refugee tent made of cardboard and plastic into a makeshift clinic. We had no electricity or running water- in temperatures hovering over 110 F degrees.”

In the early days of the ongoing medical mission to Lebanon, Dr. Saiyed joined Dr. Sandra Schumacher to provide care to refugees in settlements outside Tripoli. Together they saw over 300 patients in just the first three days. Led by Dr. Mufaddal Hamadeh, the medical mission is focusing on Pediatrics, Family Medicine and Emergency Medicine covering  Tripoli and the Bekaa Valley.

In Lebanon, over 1 million Syrian refugees live in informal settlements. For the first days of the mission, our doctors focused their efforts on informal camps outside Tripoli, working tirelessly to see as many patients as possible.

“We were the first doctors that had been there in two or three months,” Dr. Saiyed reported from his practice in the United States.

They encountered both acute and chronic illnesses – many of their patients struggled with issues such as heart problems and diabetes. Most if not all of the patients were not able to afford their medications, making their health conditions even worse.

The living conditions of the camp also had significant impact on health for many refugees. According to Dr. Saiyed, several patients struggled with urinary problems,  dehydration, dizziness and kidney stones. When he asked them how much water they were drinking, they often said they only drank a cup of water a day. Later, he found out that this was because many of the refugees did not have access to safe drinking water.

Dr. Saiyed also recalls how he was called in urgently to a refugee’s tent to see a pregnant patient, who, at 40 weeks, was due at any moment. She’d had a fainting spell due to the heat.

In addition to the physical costs of living in an informal settlement, many refugees grapple with the lingering trauma of the conflict in Syria. Dr. Saiyed describes treating adolescents who struggle with Post Traumatic Stress disorders leading to panic attacks. One of their symptoms, bedwetting, is a common manifestation of post-traumatic stress disorder.

Dr. Saiyed point out that many of these patients have had no psychosocial support to help them deal with the trauma that has been ongoing for over six years, emphasizing the need for social support and appropriate coping mechanisms.

During his time in Lebanon, Dr. Saiyed heard many such stories from patients of all ages who couldn’t afford care. He met a mother whose child had sickle cell anemia. She didn’t have the money for his medication or the needed surgery. The medication was only 50 dollars per month, but this cost is untenable for the family.

Similarly, he saw a patient with heart failure who had recently arrived from Syria. His condition was worsening as he had run out of his multiple medications, however, due to costs, he couldn’t access them.

“If I were in the United States, I would have admitted him. But we tried to make the best of the situation,” Dr. Saiyed says.

In addition to seeing as many patients as possible, Dr. Saiyed and his colleague gave out two to three months of medications.  Over the past ten days, together they have provided 543 general health and pediatric consults. Although Dr. Saiyed is now back in the United States,  five doctors, including pediatrician Dr. John Kahler, continue providing care in Lebanon, and the mission will conclude on July 30th.

Although Dr. Saiyed and his colleagues have provided crucial emergency and family medicine care, Dr. Saiyed emphasizes the ongoing need, saying that “having a continuous presence of doctors, medications and psychologists would be a tremendous help.”