The Forgotten Crisis
For those living in Zaatari, the largest Syrian refugee camp located in the country of Jordan, the privilege of eye care is far from guaranteed. Meet the volunteer program hoping to change that.
Natalie Weil | | Longer Read
The Syrian civil war officially began on March 15, 2011. Since then, hundreds of thousands of people have been killed in the brutal conflict and more have fled to neighboring countries. Now in its 10th year, the Syrian refugee crisis is the largest displacement of the modern age. Around 5.6 million Syrians are refugees, and another 6.2 million are displaced within Syria. At least half of those affected are children (1).
Today, Syrian refugees account for over 10 percent of Jordan’s population, placing immense pressure on the country’s already overstretched medical system during one of the most difficult economic periods in its history. Although most refugees live in host communities, others find themselves in Zaatari, the world’s largest Syrian refugee camp outside of Syria. Zaatari opened in 2012 less than 10 miles from the Syrian border and has since become Jordan’s fourth-largest city (albeit unofficial).
With few ophthalmologists on site, refugees rely on medical interventions provided by NGOs and volunteers, like myself, for eyecare. In 2017, anterior segment and cornea specialist, Soroosh Behshad, my colleague and cataract surgeon at the Emory Eye Center, took part in a surgical mission with the Syrian American Medical Society with the goal to treat as many people as possible. He worked his way through the adult population – but noticed a large number of children with eye problems and no one to treat them. When he returned, he asked if I would be interested in helping. Six months later, I found myself in Zaatari.
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