Dr. Raba al-Sayed looked across the Euphrates River to her family’s home in the eastern Syrian city of Al-Bukamal in Deir ez-Zor and was overcome with fear.
It was November 2017. With her husband, Adnan al-Jassim, and their four children, the family had finally managed to escape the Islamic State, the Syrian government and the Russian bombings, and were preparing to embark on the next stage of the dangerous journey to Al. -Bab in the north of the country controlled by Turkey.
Jassim, also a doctor, had made another visit to collect medical equipment from the makeshift local hospital that could be useful when they got north. Then the air strikes began.
“When I saw the plane hitting the place where we lived, my heart broke,” Sayed said. “[Jassim] He was seriously injured and needed parts of his feet amputated after we reached Al-Bab, but within six months he was already walking and treating patients again.
“We decided to stay in Syria to help others … We thought we would be safer in Al-Bab. I couldn’t imagine losing him to the coronavirus. “
After fighting for months to keep coronavirus patients alive and trying to stop the spread of the virus through the vulnerable community, Jassim was the first health worker in areas of Syria outside of Bashar al-Assad’s control to die. of Covid-19 in September.
When the virus began to spread outside of China last year, an outbreak was feared in northwestern Syria, where 1.1 million people live in tents and makeshift accommodation. The region’s health system, decimated by a decade of war, was already struggling to cope with malnutrition and other diseases.
The pandemic did not adequately seize the rebel-held parts of Syria until the onset of cold weather at the end of the year. A total of 19,447 cases have been reported, although the true number is likely to be much higher due to inadequate testing, and deaths associated with the coronavirus tripled between November and December, according to Ocha, the UN humanitarian agency.
There are many fears that another bitter winter will exacerbate the number of cases in camps for displaced people, as much of the rest of the world prepares for the arrival of coronavirus vaccines.
“It was already difficult to work as a doctor in Syria. The war has made it dangerous sometimes to be in your own hospital and we don’t have enough resources. And then came the coronavirus, ”said Dr. Mustafa Mahmud, a fellow anesthetist and intensive care physician who worked alongside Jassim at three hospitals.
“Dr. Adnan was a true leader. He organized groups of doctors to help us fight the pandemic, and tried to educate the population about hand washing, social distancing, masks …
“Losing him was very painful. And we also lose all the people that he could have saved if he were still here. We are a little better prepared now, with more beds and facilities, but it is still going to be a harsh winter, “he said.
Sayed agrees that rebel-controlled Syria faces an increasingly serious health crisis. She is still recovering from a severe case of Covid-19, but says continuing to care for others is the best way to honor her husband’s memory.
“Adnan was my whole life… he was a light for me, my children and his patients. That was suddenly turned off, ”he said. “He loved helping others. We must get on with the work. “
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism