UNICEF’s health and nutrition teams are providing urgently needed care to children following the catastrophic earthquakes of 6 February.
More than 36,000 are dead and tens of thousands injured after the twin earthquakes that devastated Turkey and Syria on February 6, 2023. As the search and rescue phase ends, the increasing rate of humanitarian response is rapidly accelerating. UNICEF teams are on the ground in both countries, working with partners to reach children and families with rescue assistance.
In the northern Syrian city of Aleppo, UNICEF-supported mobile clinics offer children health consultations, free prescriptions, medical referrals and other specialized medical services. UNICEF health teams also screen children under 5 and pregnant women for malnutrition and distribute food supplements.
Mobile health and nutrition teams make the rounds, visiting four or five shelters each. Anxious parents line up to wait their turn with children in arms.
Indelible memories of sudden disaster
Ahmad brought his 2-year-old daughter, Amirah, to be checked for malnutrition at a mobile clinic in Aleppo’s Alsaheen neighborhood.
“It was indescribable,” he said, recalling the moment he was awakened by the first quake at 4:15 a.m. “I grabbed the kids and we immediately left our house.” Their building was badly damaged, so the family is currently staying at his sister’s house.
In an emergency shelter at a mosque in Aleppo’s Sleiman Alhalabi neighborhood, Yasmine, a mother of two, described the first moments of the earthquake as she escaped with 6-year-old Faten and 13-year-old Abdulkhaleq.
“I heard that the walls of the apartment on the floor above us collapsed, so we quickly got out. I saw death with my own eyes. When I held my children’s hands down the stairs, my legs were shaking. I remember that the building smelled of mold. The apartments were are flooded and others are collapsing.
“We didn’t have time to grab any of our stuff, so we came here,” Yvonne continued. “My sister-in-law brought us three blankets to keep us warm here. I hope we can go home soon.”
UNICEF’s dedicated health workers are determined to reach every child in need
Families in shelters “are going through very difficult times,” said Faiza, 26, a UNICEF-supported health educator. They are very worried, but we are trying to support them as much as possible.
“I am sadder when I see displaced children in light clothing, despite the cold,” continued Faiza. “They escaped with nothing but the clothes on their backs. Pregnant and breastfeeding women are also vulnerable in these conditions. Seeing my baby, Wateen, in good health is what helps me cope after what happened. It keeps me motivated to support other children and mothers.”
Nearby, Hanan waited for a health consultation for her children: Molham, 7, Hala, 4, and Nour, 13. “I was displaced more than once before, because of the conflict,” Hanan said. “I’m really tired, but I’m thankful that my family is safe.”
In Alsaheen, Hiba, a mobile health team leader, screened Sondos, 2, for malnutrition using a mid-arm circumference (MUAC) tape. The meter reading was yellow, a warning that Sondos is at risk of acute malnutrition. A reading in red indicates that a child is suffering from heavy lossthe most obvious and life-threatening form of malnutrition, and should be referred to a food institution for treatment.
Families and children devastated by the earthquakes need urgent support now
Just a few hours after the earthquake hit, Hiba left her two children, 6-year-old Jad and 8-year-old Spinta, at home with her husband and rushed to meet with her team to begin supporting the children affected by the earthquake. “Feeling unable to do much is the hardest thing,” she said. “I am responsible for keeping my little ones safe and I felt equally responsible for helping other children in need.
“To support my team members, I have to manage how I feel and stay in a good mood no matter what. It’s not easy! We’ve lost a member of our team. May her soul rest in peace. And some members of our team lost their homes”, added Hiba.
“During these last few days, when I go to sleep, I feel like I’m never sure what tomorrow will bring. Insecurity is everywhere, but we continue to support people who need us.”
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