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Medical care on the frontline - the Aleppo governorate in the north of Syria. Image: Médecins Sans Frontières

Nurse tells of healthcare plight during Syria’s civil war

Registered nurse Vanessa Cramond knows well the toll of war on the health of a country’s people. After starting her career working with people living with HIV, Cramond took on increasingly senior roles within Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) and eventually led the organisation’s emergency support desk in Amsterdam.

Of late, MSF’s team of emergency specialists has focussed largely on acute displacements and refugee crises from Syria, Iraq and surrounding countries.

Cramond’s work in Syria led her to pen an article in the New Zealand Medical Journal, titled In Absentia: describing the toll of war on health in Syria, which detailed MSF’s efforts to maintain operations throughout the country at a time of conflict.

“Despite repeated requests for access to work in government-held areas, we have not been able to secure authorisation to do so,” Cramond said in the article. “We can therefore only provide direct assistance and deploy teams in opposition-held territories and can mainly speak of what we see in those locations.

“These medical program are not classic by our definition. They have been forced to start and stop as fighting draws near. They have been relocated after hospitals have been damaged by shells and mortar, or when the populations are forcibly displaced.

"These projects and hospitals operate all the time under impossible conditions with new staff, new systems and rapidly changing security management. Unpredictable border controls change from week to week, resulting in dramatic fluctuations in the availability of medicines and supplies. It is no easy feat to provide meaningful healthcare care in such an environment."

Nursing Review spoke with Cramond about the health of those living in Syria and what it has been like to face so many challenges in delivering medical humanitarian aid in the region.

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