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Syria: The 'White Helmets', volunteers who provide first aid to the wounded
As the conflict enters its fifth year, Médecins Sans Frontières / Doctors Without Borders (MSF) is supporting a network of more than 100 clinics, health posts and field hospitals and is bringing vital healthcare to a population severely affected by years of brutal conflict.
The first of three interviews with Syrian medical staff; explaining how vital emergency healthcare reaches people who need it most despite the huge challenges that entrenched and bloody conflict brings.
Dr. Taher Wazzaz, Manager of the Civil Defense Team in Idlib
The Syrian Civil Defense is a group of Syrian volunteers, also named “the White Helmets”, who provide an ambulance service to people wounded in the conflict ravaged areas of Syria.
Dr. Taher Wazzaz, the medical coordinator of the Civil Defense teams in Idlib area, explains how they provide first aid to the wounded. The Syrian Civil Defense intervened last week after the chlorine attack around Sarmin, Idlib area on March 16th, 2015.
Our work involves picking up the wounded
“The war has been going on for four years and the situation is going to get worse.
I am a dentist. I had a dental clinic before the war. I began working for Civil Defense on June 22, 2013. All the others are volunteer nurses or nurse's aides. There are a total of 80.
Our work involves picking up the wounded. They are primarily civilians. When there is an attack, people call us for help. When we already know what’s going on, we go to the location ourselves. We have cars and we find and pick up the wounded. We often have to search for them in the ruins.
A willingness to help amidst a lack of supplies
For example, the market in Saraquib was hit by artillery fire several days ago. It was horrible. There were more than 13 dead and many wounded.
Our teams went there to provide first aid, dress wounds, and transfer patients to field hospitals or to Turkey.
We distribute our telephone number and people call the nurses. If the nurses hear that there has been an attack, they go there immediately.
They have ambulances—that is, cars with the Civil Defense logo to protect them from being shot at. But that’s not very effective protection. And we don’t have enough ambulances or medical kits.
We have 20 medical posts. Two people work at each one. They only dress wounds and provide first aid. They treat around 200 wounded people every month.
Essential MSF training
Médecins Sans Frontières trained our staff. The training modules cover dressings and triage for the wounded, identifying the severity of the wounds, and determining which patients to treat first. MSF organised a training on triage of the wounded for the volunteers working in Idlib area.
MSF also vaccinated our teams against hepatitis C and gave them first aid kits.”
- Read the second of three accounts of MSF doctors working in Syria: Providing medical care in Anadan, a city located between three frontlines
- Read the third of three accounts of MSF doctors working in Syria: “We created a new medical network in the region because the health care system was destroyed”