Deir Hassan camp in Idlib province, northwestern Syria, is one of the many camps to which hundreds of thousands of displaced families fled, to escape the military offensive by Syrian government forces with their Russian allies between December 2019 and early March 2020. Deir Hassan camp hosts more than 164,000 people in settlements scattered over the hills and, as is the case across northwest Syria, it lacks basic services. It is now also threatened by the potential spread of COVID-19.
On 16 March, after assessing the needs in Deir Hassan camp, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) distributed essential items to 180 families in the Latamneh and Al-Habeet settlements, including family tents, mats, plastic sheeting, blankets, cooking sets and hygiene kits.
“We witnessed people living in the open; we also saw two or three families sharing a tent which did not protect them from the cold or the rain,” says Ahmed, MSF project team leader. “There were too few tents to accommodate the new arrivals.”
The next day, the MSF team distributed the same relief items to 115 families in Abo Obeidah, another settlement in Deir Hassan.
“Thanks to MSF, we got tents,” says Manaf Shamma, a displaced mother living in Latamneh. “This camp was set up eight months ago, but it needs latrines, sewage, proper roads.”
COVID-19 pandemic adds to health risks
In Deir Hassan camp, the water and sanitation facilities are inadequate for such large numbers of people, raising the risk of water-borne diseases. So far, upper respiratory infections have been the main condition seen by the MSF mobile clinics. But now the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic has become a huge challenge worldwide and in Syria.
The Syrian government reported the first case of COVID-19 in Syria on 23 March. While no cases have been declared in Idlib province, the last rebel stronghold, the disease may spread very quickly through the region, especially in camps, where people live in large settlements, in overcrowded conditions with little sanitation.
MSF has suspended our mobile clinics in Deir Hassan camp to allow our staff to attend training on infection prevention and control (IPC), and to make sure they wont spread the virus. In the coming days, MSF community health workers will hold health education sessions on COVID-19 with displaced families in 10 settlements in Deir Hassan camp, and will distribute leaflets and specific hygiene kits.
As our teams are now focusing their work on infection prevention and control measures, they are providing assistance for the triage and screening of patients in the two MSF-supported health centres, in Deir Hassan and Tal Karama.