Blog Home

Medical Teams Blog: Stories of boldly breaking barriers to health

Sign up to receive the blog directly to your email inbox

  • 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.”

  • Assatu: Effects of Ebola Linger in Liberia

    by Sarah Austria | Dec 01, 2016

    Early in the days of the Ebola crisis in Liberia, there was little education on how to stop the spread of the disease. So when 17-year-old Assatu’s mother and 6-year-old sister became sick with Ebola, naturally she cared for them at home. Misinformation circulated that hospitals made people sick with Ebola even worse and that care at home was better. Many people didn’t know that without proper protection, Ebola is easily transmitted by contact with a sick person. The consequences were catastrophic.

    Little Shally was a baby when she was infected with Ebola. Thankfully, she and her mother survived - but they both still struggle with painful aftereffects. 

    Assatu’s mother was eventually taken to a local Ebola Care Unit where, tragically, she died. Her young sister died on the way to the Ebola Care Unit. This loss - both mother and sister - is unimaginable. But her family’s struggles were not over. A mother herself to two young children, ages 3 and 1, Assatu was about to fight for her own life.

    Soon, Assatu and her baby daughter, Shally, became infected with Ebola. Assatu was taken to an Ebola Care Unit in the capital of Monrovia, where she spent two months fighting the disease. Then she was transferred to a unit closer to home, where she was gratefully reunited with her daughter, who was still in her own fight with Ebola.

    Miraculously, both Assatu and her daughter survived. But like many other survivors of Ebola, they both continue to have significant lasting effects of the disease. Physical ailments can continue in patients who manage to survive the initial disease. Assatu is in constant pain. Her joints hurt and walking is painful. Young Shally gets sick easily, and becomes anemic.

    Two years after the beginning of the Ebola epidemic in Liberia, continued vigilance against the disease is critical.

    Because of your support, Medical Teams International has been working hard in Liberia for over a decade, strengthening health systems throughout the country. Community education is largely recognized as the most effective way to prevent future outbreaks of the disease. Ebola cases occur periodically but education and prevention stop individual cases from once again becoming a disaster.

    Assatu works hard to care for herself and her daughter after Ebola. Thank you for being part of her community to bring better health to everyone.

    With her mother’s death, there is no one to care for Assatu and her children. Her support system has been destroyed. Prior to the Ebola epidemic, Assatu enjoyed going to school - she was a good student. She would like to be in school again but has no way to afford her school fees. Her life has forever been changed by Ebola.

    This is the story of just one family’s experience with the epidemic. It touched every element of their lives, and their entire future. Immense numbers of families in Liberia faced similar tragedies - and it will forever change their lives.  

  • Cambia and Medical Teams International: Updates from the field

    by Emily Crowe | Nov 21, 2016

    This post is from Cambia Health Solution's blog, The Pulse. We're proud that Cambia has been our partner for years, providing invaluable support for our dental program and working over the past year to develop a better system for our Uganda clinics that will provide better healthcare for the massive influx of refugees entering the country-- potentially impacting many lives.

    Check out these notes from Cathi Row, one of their employees who volunteered on the ground, working with our teams to refine and implement the project:

    Day 4

    Today we were able to start using tablets to input patient data in one of the clinics. The clinicians were excited by the new technology and caught on very quickly. I had the opportunity to watch the clinicians work with patients in the outpatient department, which was a remarkable experience.

    In the clinics there is very little privacy, and there is a high volume of patients. In a period of three hours, two clinicians met with nearly 80 patients. Patients can be either national, meaning Ugandans, or refugees, and healthcare is provided at no cost to the patient. It’s not uncommon to see a mother seeking care for not only herself, but for that of her small child or infant.


    Day 6

    Today we traveled to a clinic to learn how the data clerk compiles the data to prepare the monthly report for UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees).

    Watching the process, it took me back to a time years ago when I felt more comfortable with paper processes than electronic processes. The data clerk uses paper tallies from a variety of departments to create a very complex excel spreadsheet.

    As we move from department to department to gather data, I am given a clear message of why I am here. In maternity, we hear the cry of newborn literally coming from the room next door. A few minutes later I’m introduced to the mother and her beautiful baby.


    Day 8

    Today we traveled to one of the clinics to monitor and support clinicians as they used tablets for the first full day of data collection using tablets. After two days of training and testing, the clinicians love using the technology. While we found a few minor issues, things are working well.

    Over the next few months we will be validating the accuracy of the data. I also worked with a data clerk on completing a weekly report. Again, much like on Saturday, we went to multiple departments to gather and hand tally data to produce a weekly report. Good news! Next week some of this process will be easier for the data clerk to gather because of the work we have done here.

    Day 9

    Today was spent attending meetings in the settlement. In Uganda, one of the major accomplishments of the work day includes getting everyone to where they need to go. The process seems much like musical chairs at times. Nine or 10 people traveling to multiple locations in two cars.

    One thing you can expect is for plans to change. Today one change included a demonstration that closed a road we needed to travel. Another included an impromptu meeting which lasted longer than expected.

    You also can expect to have an opportunity to ride with different people. An important thing to remember – if you know where you are going, you’ll get there, just maybe not in the way you had originally expected.


  • Samaher: Mother, Diabetic, Refugee

    by User Not Found | Nov 18, 2016

    There are 57,000 “persons of concern” in Greece - many are refugees fleeing conflict. Here is the story of one.

    Meet Samaher. She is a 30 year old single mother from Syria. She is Muslim, has an 11 year old son, and lives at the refugee settlement with her family. She is also an insulin diabetic. Our teams have come to know her well, as she comes in every day to get new ice packs for her insulin.

    Medical volunteer Ashley acted quickly to help save Samaher's life.

    One morning, Samaher’s nephew ran to the Medical Teams staff. Something was wrong - Samaher was in her tent and not responding. When our medical volunteer, Ashley, arrived she found Samaher in a dangerous diabetic state - “unresponsive, drooling and with a blood sugar of 21.” Normal blood sugar is higher than 80. This can be fatal without treatment. Ashley and her team had to act fast. The stakes were especially high. If something happened, it wasn’t just her life at stake - her child would be left orphaned, as well.

    One team member rushed back to the clinic to call an ambulance and collect IV supplies. With the help of neighbors, the team loaded Samaher onto a blanket stretcher and carried her to the clinic. By the time they arrived, she was starting to seize. Acting quickly, Ashley showed Samaher’s brave nephew how to keep her airway open by lifting her chin, and she started an IV. Teamwork was needed to make sure Samaher stayed alive.

    Ashley rode in the back of the ambulance, keeping Samaher safe as she was still confused and combative from low blood sugars and kept trying to pull out the IV.

    As soon as she arrived at the hospital, they started Samaher on large doses of dextrose. Thankfully, she slowly started recovering. The next morning, they brought her back the clinic to teach her some critical ways to keep her diabetes in check -- the team emphasized the importance of always eating before taking insulin and that coffee with milk and sugar did not constitute a meal. These simple tricks could help save her life, especially in the challenging camp conditions where insulin can be hard to come by.

    Life in Syrian refugee settlements can be hard and many struggle like Samaher. We are blessed to work with incredible volunteers who are working hard to provide primary care to mothers, refugees and families in need around the world.

    Because of your support, our volunteers can help educate, treat and save the lives of people like Samaher.