“No life for a child” dealing with gunshot wounds in Jordan’s Azraq hospital

Published: 4 December 2014 15:03 CET

By Gwen Eamer, Canadian Red Cross/IFRC

Nine-year-old Amnah arrived at the Azraq Syrian refugee camp in eastern Jordan scared and in pain. She had already spent three months being moved from house to house, community to community, before being taken across Syria’s southern border with Jordan in the hopes of reaching safety – and medical care.

Now one of nearly 12,000 Syrian refugees living in the Azraq camp, she has yet to see her new home, meet her neighbours or visit her future school. Instead, she has spent her first 10 days at Azraq in the Red Cross Red Crescent hospital, where the medical team is helping her to heal from a three-month-old gunshot wound.

Amnah and her brother Ibrahim, 11, were both shot in the leg while walking to their uncle’s August wedding in their hometown of Daraa, in Syria’s south-west. Many families in Daraa have fled to Jordan, Lebanon or other communities in Syria to escape the ongoing conflict, which started when Amnah was six.

Getting medical care for Amnah and Ibrahim in Syria was next to impossible, with 60 per cent of the country’s public hospitals and half of its health centres completely or partially out of service. With the bullet leaving an open fracture in Amnah’s leg, her medical needs were too complex for the local health services that remained. An average of 25,000 injuries from the conflict each month, combined with severe shortages in basic medical supplies for surgery and anaesthesia, power outages and the physical destruction of health facilities, menas that Syrians like Amnah often go without the critical care they need. Preventable complications like gangrene, blood infections and organ failure are on the rise.

Road to recovery

Amnah’s road to physical and psychological recovery is a long one, but the hospital’s staff are hopeful. “Although she had had some care before she came to us, she desperately needed better treatment,” said Kari Vanamo, a Finnish Red Cross doctor. “We were able to clean and cover her open wound with a skin graft. Given the extent of her injury, her physical recovery so far is very lucky.”

Ibrahim is also being treated for the effects of his wounds, by a partner organization that runs primary care clinics in the camp’s ‘villages’. If his injuries later require it, he may be transferred to the Azraq hospital for more specialised care.

“My family is here to keep me company, but I get bored being injured. I just want to run and play outside,” Amnah said.

Her aunt Badriah, who sits with her in the ward to keep her company, has a different take on things. “I’m just thankful she could finally get help. Three months with an open gunshot wound, that is no life for a child.”

Amnah is looking forward to the day that she can leave the hospital to meet other children in her new community. “We’re just kids,” she said. “We just want to be like other kids, to play and live a safe life at home.” That life continues to look far away for Amnah and Ibrahim, who recently learned that their father, who remains in Syria, has also been shot.

The Azraq hospital for Syrian refugees is supported by the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department (ECHO), and by the governments of Canada and Italy. It is operated by staff from the Canadian, Finnish, German and Norwegian Red Cross societies, along with Jordanian medical, technical and support staff.