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Hopkins Public Health School teaching Syrian doctors how to rebuild devastated medical system

Posted at 7:22 PM, Apr 27, 2017
and last updated 2017-04-27 19:30:16-04

The almost daily barrage of bombings in Syria forced millions to flee their homes. The U.N. Refugee Agency estimates the Syrian refugee crisis now tops 5 million. 

Still, more than 13.5 million people remain in the country and like the buildings around them, the medical infrastructure there has crumbled.

A Baltimore institution is working to address the weakened health care system through scholarships and education.

Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health recently awarded full tuition to two displaced Syrian doctors who will potentially use their degrees to rebuild their home country's health care system.

Dr. Alfred Tager, one of the scholarship recipients, is from Syrian’s capital city Damascus. He came to the U.S. to continue his studies and starting in June he will attend the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health to complete the 11-month intensive Master of Public Health program.

“So we'll be grafting on to their medical knowledge about how to build health care systems, how to measure disease-burdened populations and how to design population-based interventions to attack and solve big problems,” said Dr. Michael Klag, dean of Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Big problems is an understatement for the war-ravaged country. The six-year civil war has killed nearly half a million people, and destroyed cities as well as the nation's health care system.

In addition, human rights groups estimate more than 800 health care workers have been killed since the Syrian conflict began.

“Targeting physicians or like EMS, anybody who works in the health care field is brutal,” said Dr. Tager.

While the people still in Syria are in desperate need of physicians, Dr. Tager is attending Hopkins to tackle a larger issue.

“Public health is something that can saves millions of lives,” said Dr. Tager.

“We've seen the return of vaccine preventable diseases, an increase in malnutrition and diarrhoeal diseases. So, Syria has been devastated. The Syrian situation is the worst humanitarian crisis since WWII. We all need to do whatever we can to help alleviate suffering and ensure a better future,” Klag said.

The scholarship won't solve the global crisis, but it's a sign of hope for the people who believe in a future for the place they call home.

“They are thinking about the people who are in need most of their expertise, which is the Syrian people right now and I'm sure not only me, many Syrians are grateful for that,” said Dr. Tager.

Dr. Mohammad Darwish was also awarded full-tuition estimated to cost around $65,000. He is currently in Lebanon working for the Palestine Red Crescent Society.

The scholarship was created at the end of 2016. Klag said it will be awarded every year for the foreseeable future. However, President Donald Trump’s proposed travel ban could have an impact.

Had a federal court not blocked the order, Klag said Doctors Darwish and Tager may not have been able to participate in the program.

The publication The Lancet along with American University of Beirut Commission on Syria compiled numbers on the impact the Syrian conflict has had on health workers.

They found that 814 medical personnel were killed from 2011 to February 2017. Nearly 200 health care facilities had been targeted in 2016 compared to 91 in 2012. And an estimated 15,000 of Syria’s 30,000 doctors had left by 2015.

Courtesy: The Lancet