Fri. Feb 23rd, 2024

Born from a temporary project in 2006, the Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) Reconstructive Surgery Hospital, located in Amman, Jordan, has become a hub of care for the chronically wounded in the wars tearing the Middle East apart.

From Gaza to Syria: the hospital that rebuilds the wounded of the wars Middle East | Middle East, the eternal conflict

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Meriem Emran Lasaiad, from Syria, and Sama Ramze Al-Masri, from Gaza, share a room at the Doctors Without Borders Reconstructive Surgery Hospital in Amman, Jordan.

  • Tamara Altéresco (View profile)Tamara Altéresco

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It's 17°C in Amman. In the small park adjacent to the Doctors Without Borders hospital, a young woman rocks on a swing, her neck craned towards the sun.

It's hard to guess his age by looking at his face. It bears the cruel marks of shrapnel from a shell that exploded in front of her house when she was little.

She is disfigured but flirtatious, with a touch of lipstick that follows the distorted curves of her mouth. She displays a disarming smile, white teeth and lead courage.

I'm 30 years old and I'm from Iraq, she says. She is disfigured, but she breathes hope.

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This young Iraqi woman was admitted to the Reconstructive Surgery Hospital.

Middle East, the eternal conflict

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There are only 120 places in this hospital and some of the patients will tell you that being admitted there is the equivalent of winning the lottery after losing everything in the brutal wars tearing the Middle East apart.

There are bodies in the corridors of the hospital so battered that we had to wait years before we began to reconstruct them.

All the patients are chronically injured, emphasizes Dr. Alfonso Apolinar, who is the clinical director of MSF's Reconstructive Surgery Hospital. We are adjusting to the situation in the Middle East and its wars.

The MSF project was only supposed to be temporary when it was born , in 2006, to meet the dire needs of those wounded in the war in Iraq, but it was transformed into a permanent hospital and became indispensable.

In the waiting room of the physiotherapy department, a 5-year-old Syrian girl sits on a chair and swings her little half-amputated feet, which barely touch the floor. It will take multiple surgeries as well as years of rehabilitation and trips back and forth between Syria and Jordan to learn to walk again.

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This young Syrian woman will have to undergo multiple surgeries.

He There are also young Yemenis and Palestinians among the patients.

We used to bring in five to ten patients from the Gaza Strip every month, but that stopped with the war, notes Dr. Apolinar, who directs us to the fourth floor, where we meet Sama Ramze Al-Masri, 12 years old.

She arrived from Gaza with her mother, just before the Hamas attack on Israel on October 7, to undergo treatment. She had been waiting for years to be admitted to MSF's reconstructive surgery programs in Jordan, she says. Then it took months to negotiate its exit from the enclave.

The extension of the truce should make it possible to supply hospitals which are struggling to treat civilians. So far, few injured people have been able to be evacuated to hospitals in neighboring countries, which are ready to receive them. Our correspondent Tamara Altéresco traveled to Amman, Jordan, to a Doctors Without Borders hospital that has become a hub for war wounded from across the Middle East in need of reconstructive surgery.

Sama's body is covered in third-degree burns, which she suffered while fleeing bombs in the middle of the night during the 2014 war. She was only 2 years old at the time, but her wounds stretched and became infected over the years.

Her mother Nevine, sitting at her bedside, explains to us that coming to Jordan was a golden opportunity for Sama, the beginning of 'a long process to heal your wounds.

Sama's body is doing better after a first reconstructive surgery, but now it's her heart that's suffering.

Sama and her mother spend hours eyes glued to the television screen in his bedroom, where the Al Jazeera channel broadcasts unbearable images of the war in Gaza.

We met them a few hours before the temporary ceasefire and the first exchange of Israeli hostages and Palestinian prisoners. They were counting down the minutes for the bombs to fall silent and for the exchange to materialize as planned.

Follow our live coverage of the Israel war -Hamas for the latest news.

Sama was raised in chaos, but says she's never seen anything like it.

Gaza is in ruins, anyone can die at any time, she laments. Knowing that her father, her sisters and her two brothers are still there plunges her into a deep state of anxiety.

Sama and her mother succeed to talk to them on the phone every 10 days. This morning, the line is good. We hear Sama's father's voice on the other end of the line.

It's shit here. We were given cans of tuna this morning. We are still sheltering in a school. The mosque next door was bombed yesterday, says Sama's father.

Nevine hands the phone to his daughter. Sama's father wants to hear him tell him how the surgery went. Then he hangs up crying.

God help us, said the mother, her eyes moist. God help us.

Sama's roommate listens to them in silence, her eyes filled with compassion. The 14-year-old Syrian girl is called Meriem Emra Lasaiad.

From their war wounds was born an unparalleled bond between the two girls. Sama and Meriem have become inseparable since sharing a room in Amman.

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Meriem and Sama quickly bonded friendship after their meeting.

We eat together, we sleep together, we go shopping together, says Meriem, who wears a silicone mask to protect her scars.

Meriem came spend a few months at the MSF hospital for facial reconstruction surgery, one of the establishment's major specialties, says Dr Ashraf Al-Bustanji, specialist in maxillofacial surgery.

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Patients come to us with injuries of rare intensity, deformities for which our basic training has not prepared us, and we have to go back to the literature of the Second World War to identify them. And unfortunately, we have been seeing them appear again for 20 years.

A quote from Dr Ashraf Al-Bustanji, maxillofacial surgery specialist for MSF

We follow the doctor to another room, where a 40-year-old Iraqi man is waiting for him, sitting on a bed, his face covered in bandages.

As Dr. Al-Bustanji gently removes them, nurses hand him a mirror.

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A casualty from the war in Iraq notes the progress of the reconstruction of his jaw.

Most patients arrive with photos of themselves taken before the war and we try to do the best possible to restore their confidence and allow them to continue a normal life, explains the surgeon.

Most are young and have their lives ahead of them, he adds. He cites as an example the case of a young person from Gaza who left the hospital full of plans for the future, just before the war broke out last month, but of whom he has not heard since.

The patients from Gaza who are here are victims of the previous conflict, explains the hospital's admissions director. And although we specialize in chronic injuries, we are truly ready to help alleviate the suffering of civilians in the coming weeks, especially if we succeed in gaining access.

The war in Gaza is playing in a loop on the screens in almost every room of the hospital, at the risk of awakening in patients the trauma of the conflicts which have demolished them, from Yemen to Iraq, via Syria.

We had to take charge of their mental health to try to support them a little more, to allow them to continue their basic treatment, points out Dr. Apolinar.

Psychological help is at the heart of the MSF program.

What touches me the most in everything we do is seeing this unity between people of all nationalities.

A quote from Dr. Alfonso Apolinar, clinical director of the Hospital of reconstructive surgery from MSF

Sama tells us that she dreads the day when her friend Meriem will be discharged from the hospital and return to Syria , probably within a few weeks.

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Sama's father and brother, in front of what remains of their house.

I have no idea what awaits me, she said. Could I return to Gaza in a month or a year? I do not know. We no longer have a home, my family sleeps on the floor in a school.

At 12 years old, Sama came to turn the page. But today she no longer has any reference points.

Even if she manages to return to Gaza, the chances that she will comes out to continue his transplant treatments are almost zero, in the current circumstances.

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