Jordan: Clinic to treat ‘silent killers’ sees patient numbers rise

An MSF project in northern Jordan to treat people suffering from non-communicable diseases is seeing high numbers of patients for the second year running.

A total of 3,700 patients – 69 percent of them Syrian refugees and 31 percent vulnerable Jordanians –are currently receiving free treatment and follow-up for diseases such as diabetes and hypertension in MSF’s two clinics in Irbid governorate, which were set up two years ago.  

“Treating non-communicable diseases is as important as treating a gunshot wound,” says MSF project coordinator Marjan Besuijen. “The difference is that non-communicable diseases can go unnoticed for years, which is why we refer to these diseases as ‘silent killers’.”

Non-communicable diseases – which include diabetes, hypertension, asthma, cardiovascular diseases and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease – are among the most common causes of death in the region as a whole, and in Jordan in particular.

MSF’s project, which it runs in collaboration with the Jordanian Health Ministry and the Arabian Medical Relief Society (AMR), aims to help people who have no other access to essential medical care, and to assist the Jordanian health system in coping with the health needs of large numbers of Syrian refugees.  

“There is a high incidence of non-communicable diseases amongst Syrians, and getting treatment for these diseases is unaffordable for many, particularly given the high cost of drugs in Jordan,” says MSF medical coordinator Dr. Shoaib Muhammad. “These are major reasons for our response in Irbid.”

More needs to be done to help vulnerable Syrians and Jordanians access quality healthcare, says Dr. Muhammad. “This includes reducing the prices of essential medicines in Jordan, and investment by other organisations in their response to people with non-communicable diseases.”

Almost six years into the conflict in Syria, the high number of Syrian refugees seeking shelter in Jordan until the border was closed in June 2016 has put considerable pressure on the country’s health system.

In November 2014, the Jordanian Health Ministry decided it would no longer provide free healthcare to refugees. Since then, registered Syrian refugees have had to obtain legal documentation from the Interior Ministry to receive healthcare from public health facilities at subsidised rates.

As accessing healthcare has become increasingly difficult for Syrian refugees living in the host community, many have considered moving to official refugee camps, where medical care is provided.

“Many Syrians end up exhausting their life savings to pay for longterm medical care, while others are forced to search for alternative means to access much-needed but expensive medical treatment,” says Marjan Besuijen.

As well as running its two clinics in Irbid, since August 2015 MSF’s teams have been making home visits to do medical check-ups on patients who are unable to come in for appointments, due to physical disability or financial constraints, amongst other reasons.  

Since April 2016, MSF has also been providing patients with comprehensive psychosocial support, to help alleviate mental health problems caused by stress, psychological trauma and the war in Syria. Teams have provided more than 1,600 psychosocial support sessions since April.

“My house was bombed, and I lost my property and my livelihood due to the war in Syria,” says 51-year old  Muwaffaq Mreish. “I suffered a heart attack because of what I had experienced. To help me overcome this ordeal, the doctor encouraged me to attend psychosocial support sessions. As a result, I’ve become psychologically stable and have overcome my fears of suffering another health complication.”

As of November 2016, the project has provided more than 44,000 consultations, including home visits, to Syrian and Jordanian patients over the past two years.

Given the increase in the number of patients with non-communicable diseases, MSF launched a second similar project in Ramtha district in March 2016.

The closure of Jordan’s borders with Syria in June 2016 has affected MSF’s ability to treat war-wounded Syrians at Ramtha hospital, and forced the closure of its post-operative care facility in Zaatari camp earlier this month. However, MSF’s non-communicable disease projects are seeing more patients than ever.  

MSF continues to monitor the health needs of Syrian refugees in Jordan, particularly in terms of access to specialised care, in order to adapt its response and provide medical care to those in need, working alongside the Jordanian Health Ministry.