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Medical Teams Blog: Stories of boldly breaking barriers to health

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  • Shipment packed and ready for Syria

    by Emily Crowe | Dec 29, 2016

    We are honored to share photos from our recent shipment - over 15,000 pounds of medical supplies for families and victims in Syria's Aleppo province. Our teams are increasing their response to help Syrian refugees as the recent siege of Aleppo has caused even more injuries and deaths. Thanks to your support, this shipment will help many families receive urgently-needed care.

    Much-needed donated medical supplies are packed and ready to ship thanks to the hard work of volunteers in our Tigard-based distribution center.

    The team works to pack the container as tightly as possible. Soon, these supplies will reach patients in urgent need of support in Aleppo province, Syria.

    By the end of the day, over 15,000 pounds of medical supplies were packed and shipped to Syria. 

  • A dream deferred, not forgotten, for Syrian refugee Mariam

    by Tyler Graf | Dec 21, 2016

    Lebanon,  Mariam, Dec. 2016 (6)
    In Syria, Mariam dreamed of becoming a nurse. Now in Lebanon as a refugee, she continues to care for people in her community while longing to return home.

    One thing is keeping Mariam going amid the hardships of life as a Syrian refugee — the thought of home.

    But for Mariam there is no home. Not like before. When ISIS invaded her town of Deir ez-Zor, they destroyed everything. While they killed hundreds, they kidnapped and injured hundreds more. The city became a battlefield in the Syrian civil war, upended by rancor and continuous fighting.

    Mariam, 29, was lucky to escape with her parents and two sisters.

    She left everything behind, including her schooling, which she couldn’t continue because of the war. In Syria, she had dreams for the future, of possibly entering the healthcare field. But when the bombs began dropping, those dreams faded.

    Life in Lebanon is relatively safe, but it comes with its own set of challenges. It’s expensive and difficult for Mariam to make a living. Mariam receives food from the World Food Program and works the field, but she holds out hope of returning to school and receiving her nursing degree.

    Having witnessed unspeakable trauma, Mariam wants to help others. At the settlement, she has received the training and support necessary to do this.

    Mariam is one of 500 Refugee Outreach Volunteers trained by Medical Teams International to help sick and vulnerable refugees connect with primary health care clinics. She is helping to save and improve lives by preventing strokes, heart attacks and diabetes-related complications. Medical Teams International subsidizes the care the refugees receive and provides further health support and education to ensure this care continues.

    In Lebanon, home to an estimated 1.2 million refugees, the needs are urgent. The influx of refugees has strained the country's fragile health system. By addressing preventative and ongoing care using outreach volunteers like Mariam, Medical Teams International plans to bolster the system.

    Although the future is uncertain, Mariam feels proud that she is helping others. Out of the rubble of war, she is working to rebuild lives … including her own. 

  • Liberia: Preventing Another Epidemic

    by Sarah Austria | Dec 14, 2016

    The deaths of Kadiatu’s family members occurred during the height of Liberia’s Ebola epidemic of 2014 - but the pain of her loss is still fresh. Her own survival seems miraculous. But what’s to prevent another Ebola epidemic from occurring in her community? Find out.

    Kadiatu’s story began in 2014 when her husband took care of a community member infected with Ebola in the area of Grand Cape Mount, Liberia. With little knowledge of how the virus spread, Kadiatu then in turn cared for her husband when he became ill.


    There were many myths about Ebola during the epidemic. A common misconception was that hospitals cause Ebola, and that if a person developed the disease it was better to stay home. This misinformation helped the disease spread like wildfire.

    While caring for her sick husband, Kadiatu heard a message on the radio - a message from Medical Teams International. The message explained that Ebola spreads when people come into close contact with those who had been infected. Sick patients must travel to hospitals, where they could be isolated and treated.

    After hearing the information, Kadiatu called an ambulance and her husband was taken to the hospital. Three days later, Kadiatu and her 2-year-old daughter began feeling sick and exhibiting signs of Ebola. She worried about her health, the health of her 2- year-old, and the health of her unborn baby - Kadiatu was in the late stages of pregnancy.

    Once again, she called the ambulance - this time for Kadiatu and her daughter. They briefly visited her husband before seeking treatment themselves. Tragically, it would be the last time Kadiatu saw him - he died just a few days later.

    Doctors confirmed a diagnosis of Ebola for Kadiatu and her daughter. The disease advanced rapidly and her 2-year-old daughter died. Kadiatu miscarried during her own illness. The weight of her sadness is unimaginable. For a time, Kadiatu waited for death, and even welcomed it.

    Powerfully, what Kadiatu remembers about this time is that people prayed for her.

    That gave her hope and courage, and along with her care in the hospital - she miraculously survived.


    Thanks to you, Medical Teams International was present in Liberia prior to the Ebola epidemic. As a result, Medical Teams International was able to act as a first responder during the crisis. Outreach systems already in place made it possible to help dispel Ebola misconceptions during the epidemic - and prevent further deaths.

    During the epidemic of 2014-2015, Liberia had 3,000 confirmed cases of Ebola, and 7,400 suspected or probable cases. Many led to tragedies like Kadiatu’s. New, isolated cases of Ebola continue to occur in Liberia. The virus is still active and permanent eradication is nearly impossible. But thanks to your support, progress has been made.

    Communities have been educated on how to handle new cases, and prevent future epidemics. World Health Organization reports that community education programs are the single most effective way to prevent Ebola. Your support of Medical Teams International makes these programs possible. Community outreach and training provides communities in Liberia with the education and tools to prevent and contain future cases of the deadly disease.

    Kadiatu lost so much. She is thankful for the resources helping to strengthen health systems in the communities hardest hit by the Ebola crisis. Communities throughout Liberia are empowered with the education on how to stop the disease. The message has been received - as a result the people of Liberia are healthier and communities stronger.

  • Syrian Refugees: Where Does the Journey End?

    by Sarah Austria | Dec 09, 2016

    The demonstrations began peacefully in Homs, Syria during the Arab Spring of 2011. And then the bombings began. Caught in the middle, Jigar and his family watched their city transform from a peaceful home to a warzone. In addition to the relentless bombings, soldiers began threatening private citizens into joining their forces. Residents were sometimes forced to shoot groups of people, even neighbors. If they refused, they themselves faced death.

    Camp conditions at Diavata in Greece, where many refugees like Jigar and his family fled to, seeking a safer future.

    Jigar’s family endured these conditions for over a year before they fled to family in a nearby city. For three months, a total of fifty family members squeezed into a 2-bedroom house. Seeking stability, the entire extended family paid smugglers to transport them to the Turkish border. Facing gunshots, they ran for their lives back to the Syrian side of the border.

    In the chaos, the group became separated. Jigar ended up with a group of 15 family members. Later that afternoon,they were able to successfully cross the border. Once in Turkey, they crammed all 15 people into a taxi to a bus station. The 17-hour bus trip took them to a house where Jigar’s grandparents were staying. The house was basically empty - people slept on their bags - but they settled into the next phase of their journey.

    One thing that constantly inspires us: Resilience of the human spirit, despite the incredible loss that so many refugees have endured.

    It was difficult to find work in Turkey, as they didn’t speak the language. Eventually, a few found jobs as tailors, but money was still hard to come by. Their new neighborhood was dangerous - smugglers, drugs and human trafficking were rampant. Every day the family saw dead bodies on the street.

    After living for over three years in these conditions, Jigar’s mother’s health had deteriorated. The family decided to leave and once again paid a smuggler to guide them. This time they were heading to Greece - a journey that promised to be treacherous.

    Taken by truck to the Turkish coast, the family, like so many other desperate refugees, was crammed onto an overcrowded boat and sent off to sea.

    Scared and abandoned by the smugglers, none of the refugees even knew how to drive the boat.

    One was forced to try, as the rest were too terrified to even move in the unstable craft. Mercifully, four hours later the Coast Guard rescued them and took them to the Greek coast.

    Jigar’s journey continued - his family got bus tickets to Macedonia but were dropped far from the border. After weeks of being transferred from refugee camp to refugee camp, the group made it to the Macedonian border - only to find it closed and tear gas facing anyone who tried to cross. Their hopes dashed, they were told that the border would not reopen. Jigar’s group turned to the UN relocation program where they were told to go to a refugee camp and wait.

    More than 6 months later, when our teams met them, Jigar and his family were still waiting. Their journey is not over - their last 5 years, unimaginable. The family waits to learn what is next for them. But thanks to you, they were not alone at this stage of their travels. Your support traveled across the world - our teams were able to help Jigar and his family. Jigar’s grandmother received treatment for her DVT and diabetes. The family now has one less thing to worry about.

    No one ever imagines they will become a refugee. Your support of Medical Teams International reminds refugees around the world that they have not been forgotten. People from around the world are praying for them, and sending their support. Jigar and his family hope to continue to Luxembourg some day soon. For now, they know they are not alone.

  • From market to cholera clinic: Helene survives deadly disease in Haiti

    by Tyler Graf | Dec 08, 2016

    Haiti, Helen - cholera (11), 2016 (1)

    Helene sits outside her home in rural Haiti, where she battled the devastating symptoms of cholera.

    Helene’s trip to the market started uneventfully. But as she shopped for produce in the open-air bazaar, she started feeling ill.

    First came stomach cramps, then vomiting.  

    By the time Helene reached her home, she was too weak to walk. She rested. Days later, she still couldn’t do simple everyday activities. She took some medicine, but it didn’t help. 

    Eventually, she went to a dispensary run by Medical Teams International, located a few kilometers from Helene's small commune in rural Haiti. At the dispensary, the medical personnel told her she had cholera and referred her to the closest cholera treatment center.

    By the time she arrived there, her condition had worsened. She’d grown even weaker. Health workers put her on an IV and gave her more medicine. They were worried for Helene because she was exhibiting signs of cholera during an outbreak period, when cholera was sweeping through the community.

    She wasn’t alone in the treatment center. There were five other patients there, all stricken by the deadly disease that’s killed roughly 10,000 Haitians since its introduction to the country in 2010.

    “A lot of people were sick,” Helene said of her time at the treatment center. “At one point, I was a bit scared because I know that when people get cholera, if they don’t take good care of themselves, they might die from it.”

    If the clinic hadn’t been there, Helene said, she might have been one of the thousands who have died. But she wasn't.

    Because of the early intervention, Helene made a full recovery. While cholera is something to be feared, a disease that has caused tremendous hardship in Haiti, Medical Teams continues to initiate efforts to save lives. This is a way of bringing health and wholeness to rural communities whose populations remain exposed to deadly diseases like cholera.

    Cholera is a disease that persists in Haiti, particularly when conditions are wet.

    Haiti saw a spike in cholera cases following Hurricane Matthew last month, the result of rising waters and unsanitary conditions. Though thousands of Haitians were vaccinated during the spike and others successfully treated at mobile clinics, the rainy season is coming. It stretches from April through the summer and brings with it annual fears about the spread of cholera.

    Your support helps ensure that people like Helene receive the life-saving care they desperately need.

    “The clinic is a really good thing,” Helene said. “It helps me and the community.”