Syrian conflict proves need for adaptable responses

When a patient’s life is on the line, it pays to have a plan B.

Transport delays or cancellations, a lack of available medical facilities, political crises – all of these things can seriously impede otherwise routine medical cases at a moment’s notice.

When operating in a country like Syria, however, they can quite easily spell disaster.

Syria has been in a state of political turmoil since 2011 when anti-government activists first took to the streets demanding democratic reforms. Six years on, various groups including government forces, the Free Syrian Army and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) continue to vie for control of key cities and regions.

The war has decimated towns and cities, displaced millions of Syrian families and cut off large swathes of the country due to continued conflict between its various armed factions.

What this means for Tangiers International is that having eyes and ears on the ground is a practical necessity.

Whether locating high-level healthcare providers, liaising in person with medical professionals to guarantee treatment can take place or just plotting safe travel routes out of the country, Tangiers’ network of field agents both in and outside of Syria means plans can be altered at the last-minute to allow for an unpredictable political situation.

Tangiers’ operations manager Carlos Hernandez said: “We have a case manager and in-country field agent handling all the aspects of the cases in Syria and they work in close alignment with Tangiers’ field agents in surrounding countries – in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Saudi Arabia.

“We have also established reliable partnerships with medical facilities in Syria and neighbouring countries. In Turkey, for example, we have an agreement with a chain of hospitals and we can place a guarantee of payment with them. They can also provide ground ambulances if we need them.”

A recent case, in which a US national experienced heart problems while visiting Syria, highlighted the typical challenges faced by Tangiers and its partners.

Carlos said: “We tried to evacuate this person to Turkey because she was in Latakia and that’s very close to the Turkish border.

“We organised everything: admission to a hospital in southern Turkey, an ambulance to go from the hospital in Latakia to the border, an ambulance to take her from the border and transport in Turkey. But it wasn’t safe. The area, that part of Syria, is government-controlled and for political reasons we were not allowed to do it.”

Tangiers’ partnerships with local medical facilities across Syria, however, meant that case managers were instantly able to locate alternative options in country, arranging overland travel to a hospital in the Syrian capital of Damascus.

In this particular case, the patient later opted to remain in Latakia for treatment.

Tangiers International’s emphasis on local expertise means medical cases like this are able to proceed as smoothly as possible. This means patients are assessed, treated and repatriated quickly and efficiently – removing that risk that rapidly developing political situations may derail their recovery.

In Syria and other war zones, having a backup plan and being able to implement it can prevent a medical emergency turning into a real crisis.