Driven to preserve life

2016-12-19 11:31
South African midwife Zani Prinsloo worked for Doctors Without Borders in Syria.

South African midwife Zani Prinsloo worked for Doctors Without Borders in Syria. (Supplied)

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South African midwife Zani Prinsloo recently spent nine months in Lebanon helping Syrian refugees and experiencing their heartache first hand.

In 2012, midwife and social worker for 20 years Prinsloo joined Doctors Without Borders after watching countless news segments on famine, poverty and death.

“I wanted to go somewhere where my skills could make a difference in the lives of others,” said Prinsloo.

Her first assignment with Doctors Without Borders was in Afghanistan.

She went to Syria, then the Philippines after the country had been hit by a devastating typhoon.

She then went to Pakistan, a refugee camp in South Sudan, Sierra Leone and for her most recent mission, Lebanon.

“I was involved in the two refugee camps in the south of Beirut. They were Palestinian camps. With the influx of Syrian refugees, there were about 1,4 million refugees.

“We were responsible for maternal and child healthcare as well as sexual and reproductive health.”

She said they saw around 4 000 outpatients on a monthly basis and delivered at least 200 babies per month.

“The women were traumatised. You hear terrible stories and you cry a lot.

“Many days you see babies born, but also you see many who aren’t. We can’t help the women’s past or their future but what we can do is ease their present.”

She said the doctors lived in the camps and were always on call. “Shatila refugee camp is 500 square metres with an estimated 25 000 people. It is cramped.

“The second camp is the Bourj el-Barajneh refugee camp which is double the size of Shatila and has twice the amount of people. The camps are three kilometres apart.”

Prinsloo said while she was in Afghanistan and Syria she had experienced “a lot of mortality”, but there were not so many cases in Lebanon.

“I used to cry and be sad but I knew I had to toughen up.

“It is hard to pinpoint a situation that stood out for me during my time there, but the happiness on the face of every women who delivered their baby is something I will remember. It gives me hope.

“We know the risk and dangers in certain countries but I cannot let fear stop me from living my life. I trust in my organisation to keep me safe and my passion keeps me alive.”

Gift of the Givers founder Imtiaz Sooliman said the organisation had started helping Syrian refugees in December 2012.

In Syria, he said the deliberate targeting of hospitals and civilians with a virtual total blockade on the delivery of food, medicines, water, baby food and medical equipment has added to an already catastrophic situation in the entire country.

He said the organisation’s first task in the war-torn country was providing medical support.

“In 70 days an ordinary building was converted into an emergency hospital,” he said.

“In April 2013 we took in a team of 60 specialist medical professionals from South Africa to assist and treat 7 000 patients in 10 days.

“Over a three-year period we expanded the hospital, named Ar Rahma [meaning mercy], to three floors, set up a new primary healthcare building opposite the hospital and added a second field hospital eight kilometres away.”

Sooliman said the second hospital, called Al Hilal Hospital and donated by the Turkish Red Crescent to Gift of the Givers, was a back-up facility as there were numerous attempts to bomb Ar Rahma Hospital.

Sooliman said his team in Syria had reported over 1 000 casualties and had started receiving patients from the “beseiged Aleppo”.

Reports of intense bombing, genocide and chemical attacks have come through to Sooliman, who said more information would follow as the weekend drew on.

He said plans are under way to build a third hospital for women and children, and an orphanage catering for 600 children.

For those who wish to assist those trapped in Syria, donations can be given to Gift of the Givers, Standard Bank, Pietermaritzburg, account number: 052278611, branch code: 057525.

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  doctors without borders

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