July 29, 2014

The City With One Paramedic

A city where no one is allowed in or out proves its resourcefulness

The town of Zabadani, situated just outside Damascus, used to be a favourite weekend getaway for residents of the big city. Located in a valley surrounded by mountains, the town’s more moderate climate and scenic views made it an idyllic and popular destination, particularly during the hot summer months. But since the outbreak of the Syrian crisis, Zabadani has become known for other things.

The first town to be liberated by the Free Syrian Army in 2011, Zabadani has since become the scene of a deadly and prolonged standoff between government and opposition forces. While government troops stationed in the mountains overlooking the town continue to rain down barrel bombs on the few thousand remaining citizens, the opposition fighters find themselves sneaking into the town by night, reporting on the snipers stationed all around.

The humanitarian situation in Zabadani is dire, as with so many other besieged towns and cities all across Syria. When heavy fighting made it impossible for the severely wounded to be taken to state run hospitals, residents founded the Zabadani Medical Organisation. Run by thirty year old medical school graduate Abdulhamid, the Organisation supports a field hospital as well as a pharmacy and several clinics. All medical services, including medicine and treatment, are free. The equipment for the hospital was bought by doctors, and medical NGOs have contributed some donations. 

“We used to bring in our medical supplies through the Lebanese border, but that’s gotten so dangerous. The hospital and clinics are targeted with rockets from the regime forces. They also target the medical staff to stop us from working. Now we get our supplies through the mountains on the Lebanon border using secret roads. We also get some supplies from neighboring villages through distributors we work with. The supplies we have now would be enough for about a month. We are deeply worried that it won’t be enough, especially with the ongoing siege and daily attacks by the regime forces. If the support stopped and all roads were blocked, we would be back to limiting our work to emergency cases only. We need $15,000 to continue to operate over the next few months.” – Abdulhamid

 The hospital is staffed by one paramedic, eight doctors, ten technicians, three nurses, and a small group of administrators including cleaners and a legal advisor.