Severely-Ill Refugee Children in Lesbos Camp Denied Specialists Care

February 6, 2020

MORIA, Lesbos – Human rights groups, activists, volunteers, and NGO’s working at the notorious overwhelmed Moria refugee and migrant camp on the island of Lesbos have been complaining the last few years about what they said were inhumane conditions, which are said to include providing little access to specialty health care for children who are severely ill.

The problem was highlighted in a feature by Al Jazeera which wrote of the plight of some of those, at the same time the Greek government has been accused by critics of not providing adequate care for unaccompanied minors who have no parents or guardians.

Mohammed, two years and eight months old, has been living in the Moria refugee camp in Greece, for four months with a life-threatening condition and limited access to healthcare after being born prematurely with hydrocephalus, a blockage of the circulation of fluid around the brain resulting in increased pressure in the skull, which can cause brain damage.

The news site reported how he and his 26-year-old mother Fawzia Ahmadi and their family of four is struggling to cope in a tent outside the camp, a facility designed for 3000 that has held as many as 16,000 people.

The family, like most who landed on Greek islands, came from Turkey where they had fled from their home in Kabul, Afghanistan, joining others from the Syria  civil war and other countries who feared for their lives and are seeking asylum, a process that can take two years or longer.

That has caused frequent tension and violence between ethnic groups and with riot police called in to quell trouble, with a flareup that saw tear gas fired at some 2,000 protesters trying to reach the island’s capital of Mytilini, children among those being overcome.

 “It’s very difficult in the night,” Ahmadi said. “He complains of headaches a lot and so we take it in shifts to sleep and check that he is OK. I worry about him so much.

“I’ve been told that I need to keep him clean but I don’t know how I can do that here? We cannot wash him every day, the weather is very cold and so is the water.” Residents said there aren’t enough toilets or sanitary facilities, problems with electricity, how water, and other necessities.

She said she understand the island’s hospital isn’t equipped to deal with her son.

“I think it’s not their problem because there are too many sick people there. My son is sick but there are already too many kids who are sick, they don’t have the time to take care of them all. I just want him to be somewhere warm where I can wash him and take care of him,” she said.

Her son, said the site, is among 140 children in the camp who have chronic, complex and life-threatening diseases who MSF (Doctors Without Borders) are fearful for, complaining they are being denied access to specialty care.

The New Democracy government, after winning July 7, 2019 snap elections, ousting the former ruling Radical Left SYRIZA, quickly rescinded access to healthcare for asylum seekers and undocumented people living in Greece, leaving around 55,000 people without medical care, according to MSF.

George Makris, the Assistant Medical Coordinator in Greece and the North Balkans for MSF, told Al Jazeera about Mohammed’s case: “We don’t have the resources to investigate this kind of medical condition and we don’t have the specialized doctors who are pediatric neurologists either.

“At the same time, not even the hospital on the island of Lesbos has a pediatric neurologist and they do not have the diagnostic tools necessary to investigate this kind of condition.” He said that MSF doctor believe a device put in to help alleviate pressure could be malfunctioning, which is why Mohammed is having severe headaches.
“We are extremely worried about the complications that this malfunction could have, which could be life-threatening to this child,” he said.

The doctors want immediate transfer to mainland facilities and hospitals of children with potentially life-threatening illnesses or problems that affect their quality of life and ability to function.
Makris told Al Jazeera that the local hospital is overwhelmed.

“They have to cover 20,000 more people here without the proper equipment and humanitarian resources,” he said. “For us as doctors, it’s extremely difficult to examine and treat children with severe physical or mental disabilities and send them back to a camp that is unsafe and overcrowded where they live in summer tents in the middle of winter. It’s tragic.”


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