March 24 - Al-Zaatari Camp
Today was our first day in Zaatari, the largest of the refugee camps in Jordan and one of the largest in the world. At its peak, the population of Zaatari was as high as 156,000 although it was only built for 60,000. Today it has about 80,000. That still makes it the 5th largest city in Jordan. And it felt like we saw a good portion of that 80,000 today, although in reality it was only 200. We could have seen twice that many if they had let us stay later, but they had strict hours in the camp and when it was time for the clinic to close, we had to close. It was our busiest day yet. They get primary care doctors and dentists in the camp regularly, but dermatologists are rare.
We continued to see a lot of the same conditions as on other days – lots of fungal infections due to lack of water for bathing, lice, scabies, dry skin, but we added burns and itchy burn scars to the list today. People cook over gas stoves in the camp and they sometimes explode or flare and cause fires. Children often get burns from boiling water that spills due to the cramped living quarters. Vaseline® was prescribed in all cases. And our derm team named a new condition today – Zaatari feet and hands. It is skin so dry and traumatized from exposure, rough work or lack of protective footwear that deep fissures form. It’s like having cracked, tough calluses half an inch thick and sometimes more. Vaseline Jelly could help prevent this condition.
The conditions people were living in were worse than some of the other towns and villages where we have been this week, but the people in general seemed happy. A lady who was a dentist back in Syria and she said she tried to be happy, but sometimes it is hard. “You have no idea.” she said. She and her family left Syria when the government forces bombed Homs, her hometown and the opposition’s stronghold.
We drove around the perimeter of the camp and it is massive. It is mostly “container” houses – white boxes that look like shipping containers – and a few tents still scattered here and there. There are paved thoroughfares cutting through the sea of white rectangles and then dirt roads crisscrossing in between. Here and there are playgrounds and we saw one formal soccer field (well, field is a misnomer as it was paved) and several more informal soccer games were being played in the dirt at the edges of the camp. But it was dry, dry, dusty and dry.
The people there are making the best of it, but most of them can’t work and they are just waiting. Waiting to go back home. They never thought they would be waiting so long. And they aren’t disillusioned either about what awaits them when they do, hopefully, return. One man told us that he knew his Syria was mostly destroyed, but he wanted to go home to help rebuild his country.
March 25 - Zarqa
We set up in a school building and our room was spacious with lots of natural light from 2 windows. We set the pharmacy table up on a row of desks and had two sheets hung up in corners of the room for women to use for peeling off layers and layers of clothing to get down to skin.
While everyone is in great need, people here seemed somewhat better off. But still, the stories were horrendous. We saw many many widows. Young widows with multiple children.
Two women came in – cousins. Their husbands were either dead or fighting in Syria, and they had 3 children with them who were complaining of itching. Another case of scabies. When we would get a case of scabies, we would send enough medicine and instructions to treat the whole family so we asked how many people lived with them. When they answered, we thought we had lost something in translation - 20 people lived in one small apartment. We sent them home with medicine for 20, but even so, it will be next to impossible to disinfect everything to prevent reinfection. Something so simple, clean bedding and clothing but not something Vaseline or any of us could fix.
The picture above is of a little girl with Leishmaniasis. You can see the sore and scarring on her cheek from it. Dr. Jaber used a special heating device to kill the parasite. Although it doesn’t hurt, the girl bled from the sore and it was a bit scary but she was so brave. You can see her here smiling – with Vaseline® all over her cheek to heal the wound.