NABATIEH, Lebanon: Many doctors in Lebanon have experience treating those wounded in war, but few have the specialized training for working in severely undeveloped areas where medical equipment is basic and it can take up to a week for patients to get to a proper hospital. This is the reality in much of Syria.
Last week, the International Committee of the Red Cross, in coordination with the Red Crescent Society of the Islamic Republic of Iran, held a three-day war surgery seminar for around 40 Lebanese surgeons from southern Lebanon at the Ragheb Harb Hospital in Nabatieh.
There, as they watched graphic slideshows of severe wounds to the brain and other critical organs, they learned about ways to treat war-wounded patients based on the experience of surgeons who have spent decades in war zones all over the world.
“When we talk about patients that arrive from Syria, they’re arriving late, and we’re only seeing those that survive,” Marco Baldan said. The ICRC’s head surgeon, he has worked in South Sudan and similar war-torn countries, and is used to working with limited medical resources. Baldan specializes in the treatment and management of wounds inflicted by weapons.
Mustafa Hamadi, a doctor from the south who attended the seminar and has treated many trauma cases – though none yet from Syria – said he learned about the important use of antibiotics in the cases of severe infections caused by wounds that had been left untreated for several days.
“They’ve arrived with wounds that are badly infected, and they’ve lost a lot of blood,” Baldan explained. “Here in Lebanon, patients take half an hour to an hour and a half to get to the hospital. From Syria, they’re taking days to arrive.”
As a result, he said, patients can develop septicemia, a life-threatening full-body inflammation caused by a severe infection – often more dangerous than the initial wound.
“This is common in countries of conflict; because of the security situation they have to walk or be carried to the hospital, which can take days,” he said. This kind of lack of access is most common in sub-Saharan Africa, he added, but it is increasingly becoming the norm in Syria as the country’s security and infrastructure continues to deteriorate.
Last month, in an open letter to medical journal The Lancet, industry experts appealed to all combatants in Syria to spare hospitals and allow health workers to operate freely.
According to the World Health Organization, up to 60 percent of hospitals have “limited or no capacity,” and in some governorates, around 70 percent of health care providers can’t reach their workplaces.
Meanwhile, an increasing number of Syrians are seeking treatment in already underfunded Lebanese hospitals, making it more important than ever for doctors to be able to use limited resources to treat severely wounded patients.
Since the crisis in Syrian began, the ICRC has held around a dozen seminars of this kind, with previous sessions being held in June at hospitals in Chtaura and Tripoli. However, this is the first to take place in the south and in cooperation with Iran’s Red Crescent Society.
The ICRC had its first ever war-surgery seminar in Mogadishu in 1989, and since then has held more than 200 such events throughout the world.
“This is important because this is specific, specialized training that has been developed through years of experience,” said ICRC health delegate Bertrand Martinez-Aussel. “It’s not academic, and it can’t be learned in classic curriculum. It’s based on practical experience that ICRC surgeons around the world have collected.”