© MSF/Mohammed Sanabani
29 Oct 20 19 Feb 21

COVID-19 arrives in Jordan’s largest refugee camp,

One month after the first person tested positive for COVID-19 in Jordan’s Zaatari refugee camp, the international medical organisation Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has so far received seven patients at its COVID-19 treatment centre in the camp.

MSF’s 30-bed centre, run in collaboration with the Jordanian Health Ministry, local authorities, the UNHCR and other organisations in the camp, provides medical care to people with mild or moderate symptoms of the disease. Patients in a severe or critical condition are referred to designated Ministry of Health hospitals.

'An outbreak in a camp setting can spread quickly'

Jordan recorded its first confirmed COVID-19 case in March 2020, and the government reacted quickly by implementing strict preventive measures to stem the spread of the virus; including complete shutdown of land, sea and airports, as well as weeks-long lockdown and extended curfews. Yet, the gradual easing of lockdown measures in June saw the steady increase of confirmed cases across the country, reaching Mafraq governorate where Zaatari camp is located.

“We have been monitoring people’s health situation in Zaatari since March, as an outbreak in a camp setting can spread quickly,” says Gemma Dominguez, MSF head of mission in Jordan. “In a densely populated refugee camp, it can be very difficult for people to follow simple preventive measures such as handwashing, wearing a mask and physical distancing.”

MSF team is team members putting on protective gowns

Established in 2012, Zaatari refugee camp situated close to Jordan’s northern border with Syria, is now home to around 76,000 Syrian refugees who fled the ongoing violence in their country in search of safety and security in neighbouring Jordan.

Inevitable impact

The recent emergence of the novel COVID-19 virus in Zaatari camp and the consequent restrictions put in place at the beginning of the pandemic - to limit the spread of the virus - have added another layer of difficulty to the vulnerable refugees living away from home for years. The movement restrictions and curfews imposed forced shops into closure and affected people’s ability to leave the camp for work, causing a disruption in livelihood.

People in the camp have also shown concerns over contracting the contagious virus and the inevitable impact it may have on their lives.

“Some people who experience symptoms similar to COVID-19 do not speak of their symptoms and prefer to remain silent,” says Dr. Ahmed Sabah, MSF medical doctor in Zaatari. “People are worried of being forced into quarantine, and of being separated from their families. Imagine a mother with four children inquiring about the whereabouts of her children if she were to be placed in quarantine; ‘what will happen to my children and who will take care of them if we are separated because of this virus?’, she said to me.”

Majd a Syrian refugee receiving medical care in COVID-19 treatment centre in Zaatari camp, Jordan..

Majd, a 23-year-old Syrian patient living in Zaatari camp, experienced a persistent fever and unexplained dizziness for days that eventually led him to MSF’s centre for medical treatment. He is staying in the centre as he awaits impatiently to receive the result of his COVID-19 test.

“I have been in the MSF hospital for two days. I don’t cough and I do not have a runny nose, it was only a persistent fever that is now gone. Now, I am still waiting for my test result; if I’m negative, I will be able to go home, but if I am not, I would have to stay here and receive medical attention. If my test turns out positive, it is something that is beyond my control but God will help me, I’m not worried.”

MSF in Jordan

In 2020, MSF teams have provided 13,517 medical consultations and distributed medication for chronic diseases to more than 5,000 patients, both Syrian refugees and vulnerable Jordanians, while the home visits team has conducted 1,654 visits. In Amman, MSF continues to admit patients from across the region to its reconstructive surgery hospital. MSF has also made donations and provided training to the Jordan Medical Association.

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