In Syria, UNICEF mobile health clinics reach children after earthquakes

UNICEF health and nutrition teams provide much-needed assistance to children after the catastrophic February 6 earthquake.

On February 10, 2023, Hamzeh, 4, is checked for malnutrition by Hiba, a UNICEF-supported mobile health team leader, in the Alsalheen district of the city of Aleppo, northern Syria.

© UNICEF/UN0781272/Al-Asadi

More than 36,000 people died and tens of thousands were injured after two earthquakes devastated Turkey and Syria on February 6, 2023. With the end of the search and rescue phase, the expansion of humanitarian assistance is rapidly accelerating. UNICEF teams are on the ground in both countries, working with partners to reach children and families with life-saving assistance.

In the city of Aleppo in northern Syria, UNICEF-supported mobile clinics provide children with health advice, free prescriptions, doctor referrals and other specialized medical services. UNICEF health teams also screen children under 5 and pregnant women for malnutrition and distribute nutritional supplements.

Caregivers and their children await consultations at a UNICEF-supported mobile health clinic near a temporary shelter in the Sleiman Alhalabi district of the northern Syrian city of Aleppo, February 10, 2023.

© UNICEF/UN0781578/Al-Asadi

The mobile health and nutrition teams make the rounds, visiting four or five shelters at a time. Concerned parents stand in line to wait their turn with their children in their arms.

Ahmad takes his two-year-old daughter Amirah to be screened for malnutrition by a UNICEF-supported mobile health team in the Alsalheen neighborhood of the city of Aleppo in northern Syria.

© UNICEF/UN0781273/Al-Asadi

Indelible memories of a sudden catastrophe

Ahmad took his two-year-old daughter Amirah to a mobile clinic in Aleppo’s Alsaheen district for malnutrition screening.

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“It was indescribable,” he said, recalling the moment he was jolted awake at 4:15 a.m. by the first earthquake. “I grabbed the kids and we left home immediately.” Her building was badly damaged, so the family is staying at his sister’s house for the time being.

From left: siblings Faten, 6, and Abdulkhaleq, 13, and their cousin Hamzeh, 5, at a mosque in Sleiman Alhalabi, Aleppo city, northern Syria, on February 10, 2023.

© UNICEF/UN0781603/Al-Asadi

At an emergency shelter in a mosque in Aleppo’s Sleiman Alhalabi district, Yasmine, a mother of two, described the first moments of the earthquake as she fled with 6-year-old Faten and 13-year-old Abdulkhaleq.

“I heard the walls of the apartment above us crumbling, so we rushed out. I saw death with my own eyes. As I held my children’s hands down the stairs, my legs were shaking. I remember the building smelled of mold Apartments were flooded and others collapsed.

“We didn’t have time to pack our things, so we came here,” Yvonne continued. “My sister-in-law brought us three blankets to keep us warm here. I hope we can go home again soon.”

Faiza, 26, is a UNICEF-supported health educator working with children and families displaced by the February 6 earthquakes in Aleppo, Syria.

© UNICEF/UN0781604/Al-Asadi

Dedicated UNICEF health workers are determined to reach every child in need

The families at the shelter “are going through very difficult times,” said Faiza, 26, a UNICEF-supported health educator. “They are very concerned but we try to support them as much as we can.”

“What saddens me the most is seeing displaced children dressed lightly despite the cold,” continued Faiza. “They escaped with nothing but the clothes on their backs. Pregnant and breastfeeding women are also at risk under these conditions. Seeing my baby Wateen in good health helps me cope with what happened. It motivates me to support other children and mothers.”

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Siblings Molham (7), Hala (4) and Nour (13) wait to see a UNICEF health team in the Sleiman Alhalabbi neighborhood of Aleppo.

© UNICEF/UN0781602/Al-Asadi

Nearby, Hanan was waiting for a health consultation for her children: Molham, 7, Hala, 4, and Nour, 13. “I’ve been displaced more than once because of the conflict,” Hanan said. “I’m really tired but grateful that my family is safe.”

A father holds his 2-year-old child while a member of the UNICEF mobile health team measures the child’s upper middle arm to check for malnutrition.

© UNICEF/UN0781278/Al-Asadi

In Alsaheen, Hiba, a mobile health team leader, checked 2-year-old Sondos for malnutrition using MUAC (Mid-Upper Arm Circumference) tape. The tape measure read yellow, a warning that Sondos is at risk of acute malnutrition. A red indicator indicates that a child is suffering from severe wasting, the most visible and life-threatening form of malnutrition, and needs to be referred to a nutrition facility for treatment.

February 10, 2023, from left: Amr, 24, Fayzeh, Hiba, Sameh, 24, and Mohammad, 28, stand in front of the rubble of a building that collapsed during the earthquake in Aleppo’s Alsalheen district.

© UNICEF/UN0781283/Al-Asadi

Families and children devastated by the tremors now urgently need support

Just hours after the earthquake, Hiba left her two children, 6-year-old Jad and 8-year-old Spinta, at her husband’s home and rushed to meet with her team to start assisting the children affected by the earthquake begin. “The feeling of not being able to do much is the hardest part,” she said. “I have a responsibility to make sure my little ones are safe, and I felt the same responsibility to help other children in need.

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“To support my teammates, I need to manage my emotions and stay in a good mood despite everything. It’s not easy! We lost a member of our team. May their soul rest in peace. And a few of our teammates lost their homes “Hiba added.

“For the past few days, as I go to sleep, I feel like I’m never sure what tomorrow will bring. Uncertainty is everywhere, but we will continue to support the people who need us.”

Help UNICEF reach more children affected by the earthquakes in Syria and Turkey. Your contribution can make a difference. donation today.

Sarah Ferguson is Senior Editorial Director at UNICEF USA. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times Book Review, The Guardian, Elle, Vogue, New York Magazine, and numerous other publications.

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