What Happens to Diabetics During a Humanitarian Crisis?

The crisis in Syria has torn the country apart, with the United Nations estimating the death toll from the two-year-old civil war to be at least 80,000 as of May, 2013. We know that war and violence damages people’s lives in unthinkable ways by taking away basic things like shelter, food and other necessities. On top of those horrors, what about those who live with a chronic condition like type 1 diabetes which requires regular medicine/treatments for survival? Many are in grave danger because they can no longer access their medicine.

Even at the start of the war, it was obvious that the healthcare system in Syria was facing major difficulties. An editorial by Kherallah, et al in the Avicenna Journal of Medicine (Health Care in Syria before and during the crisis), noted in 2012 that “Specific concerns remain for the chronically sick. It is estimated that more than half of those chronically ill have been forced to interrupt their treatment.”

Now, in 2013, the system is in a state of emergency because of the continued fighting and carnage. There have been reports of widespread looting of healthcare facilities, warehouses and offices, interfering with existing treatment of patients. The World Health Organization reported that 36 per cent of the country’s public hospitals are out of service with 57 per cent damaged.

The WHO also noted that production and importation of medicines has been almost completely eliminated due to issues including destruction and closure of pharmaceutical facilities, economic sanctions, currency fluctuations and budget cuts. This scarcity of life-saving products (including insulin) has caused many deaths. An updated Essential Medicines List for the country has been created, which aims to support international medical aid efforts. An estimated $900m is needed to cover these essential medicines and supplies during the next 12 months, according to the WHO evaluations.

In an article on Free speech and Radio News (fsrn.org), Doctors Without Borders staff explained some of the failures they have witnessed in the Syrian health system. “We’ve seen in one case blood transfusions that were not even tested, resulting in the death of the patient, so the patients are given the wrong blood type, so the most basic level of health care are not available in vast areas of the country.” Christopher Stokes, general director for Doctors without Borders in Belgium, noted that production and access to vital medicines in Syria has completely broken down. Another MSF staff member noted that, “One diabetic patient can look for insulin in a lot of places, but will not find the insulin or if he finds insulin, it will cost him around 25 or 30 dollars for one vial…”

MSF said in its recent report, Syria two years on: the failure of international aid so far, “Health workers and medical facilities are still receiving threats and medical structures are targeted and destroyed.” Not only do civilians fear visiting hospitals due to unrest, but because hospitals are being directly targeted, many medical personnel have also fled areas where care is needed the most. Syrian doctors suspected of treating rebels can face torture, jail, and death.

“The situation for ordinary people, whether wounded in the war, needing assistance in childbirth, or care for chronic conditions such as heart disease and diabetes is desperate,” said MSF. “Without insulin, patients are coming in with [extremely high] blood sugar levels…and we have had some with a gangrenous foot that requires amputation,” another emergency MSF doctor quoted.

It is painful, to say the least, to imagine the situation in Syria at present. Those of us living with diabetes know how difficult it is to manage our chronic condition, so let’s keep those in the midst of humanitarian crises in our minds and do what we can to spread the word about the situation. We can also donate to and share appeals from medical organizations like MSF. You can read more and donate directly at http://www.msf.org.uk/.

You can also help by sharing this message:

The 100 Campaign is urgently seeking any leads to any individual, group or NGO who may be able to donate a life-saving dialysis machine (in-kind) to an international humanitarian aid organization responding to the crisis situation in Syria. Contact 100Campaign@access2insulin.org with any suggestions and/or leads. Please share this request as widely as possible.

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1 thought on “What Happens to Diabetics During a Humanitarian Crisis?

  1. Pingback: Reflections after the Young Leaders in Diabetes Training | T1International

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