Earthquake-displaced Syrians fear cholera outbreak as conditions worsen | Turkey-Syria Earthquake News

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Idlib, Syria Abdel Moneim Hamdo rushed his two children, one an infant, to a hospital in the northwestern Syrian city of Idlib after they complained of severe stomachaches that did not seem to resolve.

“I took my son and daughter to the hospital to find out if they had contracted cholera,” Hamdo said. He and his family – including his eight children – had moved from Atarib near Aleppo to Al camp -Iman, near Idlib, after the devastating earthquakes that hit the Turkey-Syria border region in February.

“But after doing some tests, it turned out that they were suffering from acute gastroenteritis as a result of consuming contaminated water,” he said, adding that needs, including access to water clean and sanitary toilet facilities, required at the camp.

Millions of Syrians have already been displaced by more than 11 years of war, and the difficult living conditions at refugee camps in the region have worsened since the earthquakes. The number of people infected with cholera – a disease caused by eating and drinking contaminated food or water – has been increasing.

And there are concerns that the camp does not have enough resources to handle an outbreak.

“After surviving the earthquake, we now live in fear of contracting any infectious diseases that are spreading like wildfire throughout the camps,” said Hamdo, who fell his house in the earthquakes of February 6. “It is as if we have escaped death only to find death.”

A scene of tents set up in a barren, desert-like area.  Some at the front are beige and at the back are multi-colored tents.
Two people have died of cholera in northwest Syria after devastating earthquakes hit the region, emergency responders in the rebel-held area said. [Ali Haj Suleiman/Al Jazeera]

Growing numbers

At least two people died of cholera in north-west Syria last month, bringing the total number of cholera deaths recorded in the north-west since the start of the outbreak last year to 22, according to a tweet earlier this week from the Syrian Civil Defense, also known as the White Helmets.

Fatima Abdelrahman, a doctor at the Cham Humanitarian Foundation’s cholera treatment center in the suburbs of Idlib, said that common symptoms among cholera patients include watery diarrhea, vomiting, abdominal pain and difficulty sewing, with some also suffering from high fever.

“Treatment is given according to the severity of each case. Mild and moderate cases are treated with intravenous or oral solutions to replace the lost fluids, along with antibiotics, antiseptics and antispasmodics,” said Abdelrahman, an internal medicine specialist.

“The risk is among patients who come to hospital after a delay after initial symptoms start to appear. By the time they arrive, they are already showing signs of kidney failure due to long periods of dehydration,” she said.

Al Jazeera tried to speak to cholera patients about their experiences, but they were too ill to answer questions.

Aisha Abdulkarim is worried that her nine children could contract cholera due to the camp’s lack of basic hygiene [Ali Haj Suleiman/Al Jazeera]

Poor sanitation

After the deadly earthquakes that killed nearly 6,000 people in northwestern Syria and displaced tens of thousands more, local health care organizations warned of outbreaks of cholera and other infectious diseases, as there was a severe lack of shelter and clean drinking water.

According to the Epidemic Early Warning and Response Program (EWARN) in northwest Syria, at least 6,458 new cholera cases were recorded last month. The EWARN confirmed that two people had died of cholera in February.

“We expect a significant increase in the number of cholera infections due to fragile infrastructure and contamination of water sources with sewage,” Mohamed Salem, director of the vaccination program at the response coordination center, told Al Jazeera .

Salem told Al Jazeera that with most health care facilities focused on treating earthquake victims, cholera patients have taken second priority. He warned that the number of cholera infections would increase and requested that a vaccination campaign be urgently launched throughout the most vulnerable regions.

“We only have about 1.7 million vaccines from the World Health Organization, which is not enough to spread this epidemic throughout northwestern Syria. To do that, we need about 4.5 million doses,” he explained.

Residents describe conditions at the shelters and camp as very difficult, with needs including basic hygiene and access to clean water and sanitary toilets lacking. [Ali Haj Suleiman/Al Jazeera]

‘Constant Fear’

The threat of cholera spreading across shelters and camps in northwestern Syria has become a major concern among people living there because of the weak humanitarian response following the earthquakes. earth

“I try to do my best in taking care of the cleanliness and hygiene of my children. I want to protect them from any diseases. But because of the extreme cold and the lack of private shower facilities, I can only bathe once a week, using a water pot inside our tent,” said 36-year-old Aisha Abdulkarim.

The mother of nine, who lives with 150 other Syrian families at a shelter set up on the border between Syria and Turkey since the earthquakes, says the conditions in the camp are terrible.

“I always wash our fruit and vegetables with water and salt. I even prevent my children from eating or drinking anything outside the tent,” said Abdulkarim.

“But I’m always afraid one of them will get cholera. We hear about new cases every day. “

Additional reporting by Arwa Ibrahim

Inside a tent that has two rows of beds on either side, tails facing each other, with a walkway between them.  There is a heater at the end of the walkway, at the back of the tent.  Three medical workers, also wearing personal protective equipment, are near the back.  A tank is attached to his back and he is spraying an empty bed.  Two others are at the back of the tent, taking notes from a patient sitting on a bed.
The threat of cholera spreading across shelters and camps in northwestern Syria has become a major concern among people living there [Ali Haj Suleiman/Al Jazeera]
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