BEIRUT: Co-founded by veteran CNN correspondent Arwa Damon, NGO INARA works with refugee children in Lebanon who have been harmed by the Syrian conflict.
The two-year-old organization is taking on this project one refugee child at a time, with each year adding to the number of children helped by INARA (International Network for Aid Relief and Assistance), which helps identify children with life-threatening injuries or illnesses and find treatment for them.
Damon created the organization to address severe gaps that existed in medical provision for refugee children which involves coordination between the NGO staff, at-risk children, their families, possible funding and medical professional available to perform operations and provide other medical work.
“For me working as a journalist in the war zone, simply covering the news wasn’t enough,” Damon said. “The gaps in medical provision in the war zone became so glaring that I felt that I had to act; I had to do something. INARA was created to respond to these gaps.”
At the end of March, the organization announced that it was awarded over $500,000 as part of INARA partnership with UNICEF in Lebanon. The funding has been provided by the US Fund for UNICEF.
This money will be used to continue INARA’s work providing life-altering medical treatment to refugee children; and also to expand the NGO’s work to launch a new project focusing on orthopedic injuries.
Damon noted of the large grant, “I’m so proud that we are partnering with UNICEF again this year. Their support is vital for us to provide medical treatment to refugee children who have been injured either in war or from living as refugees here in Lebanon. We are extremely grateful that they have recognized the work that we do, and we know that, with their help, we can make a huge difference to the lives of refugee children.”
With this money, INARA is targeting treating 67 children in the next year, with the average injury case costing approximately $5,000. Orthopedic cases are expected to range between $4,000 and $20,000 - and the NGO anticipates the average case to cost at around $15,000. The number of cases handled in 2017 will be double the amount of children treated in 2016.
“This will allow us to treat even more children and hire an additional case worker,” Arwa Damon added. “We realize that we will face challenges, but we are thrilled that we have more resources to help those in their most desperate time of need in any way we can.”
“Access to specialized health services and treatment options remains a challenge for many Syrian refugee children who have suffered major injuries because of the conflict in Syria or even here in Lebanon,” said UNICEF’s representative in Lebanon, Tanya Chapuisat. “Our partnership with INARA is a step towards helping some of these children overcome the lifelong consequences and give them back the opportunity to reclaim their hope for the future.”
Sofia Karim, INARA’s Country Manager for Lebanon, told Annahar that every case handled involves a great deal of coordination, including identifying children you can help, matching them with the right physician, and fundraising to help pay for treatment.
“We recognize that for each child to receive quality care, a lot of coordination is involved. This is why each case has a dedicated caseworker who manages the case from the start to the end. Initially, our caseworker receives and logs all referrals to INARA. If the child’s condition fits our criteria then we identify a doctor and bring the child in for a medical assessment,” Karim said, adding, “We then book in the surgery and ensure that both the child and parents are aware of the surgical procedures, and assist the child with any follow up appointments, if necessary.
INARA also purchases all medication and pays for transportation to the medical facility and other relevant costs which may come up.
“Our average case costs us $5,000 and if there are cases which are much more than this, we sometimes we launch campaigns to see if we can collect the funds needed,” she said.
INARA works closely with a number of other humanitarian organizations including International Medical Corps (IMC), Palestine Children's Relief Fund (PCRF), UNHCR, Handicap International, Syrian American Medical Association (SAMS), and International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).
The NGO either receives cases from these groups or may refer cases to these organizations for assistance as the circumstances dictate.
With the aid of UNICEF funding, INARA is also launching a new, time-limited project to help refugee children from Syria with clubfoot and developmental dislocation of the hip (DDH). There are currently no humanitarian organizations within Lebanon that provide treatment for such orthopedic conditions regularly, the NGO said in a recent statement.
Both of these conditions cause children extreme pain and mean they struggle to walk. The impact it has on their life is severe - and often means that they withdraw from social interactions for fear of being stared at or bullied by their peers, noted INARA in its announcement of the project.
“Funding for this project has been secured from UNICEF and other donors and INARA hopes that with this money we will be able to enable mobility for approximately 15 children,” INARA said. “Treatment for both clubfoot and DDH is complicated, expensive, and takes a long time.”
To ensure that INARA can help as many people as possible with its limited funding, they have had to set strict criteria when it comes to which children they can treat. They will be taking on cases of children with clubfoot from birth to one year of age. With DDH cases, they will only be providing treatment to children from birth to 17 months.
“We have to remember that this project is small. We only have a limited amount of money and we can’t help every single child with an orthopedic deformity that lives as a refugee in Lebanon - no matter how much we want to,” said Damon.
Dr. Ghassan Abu Sittah, a member of INARA’s board of directors, the Head of the Division of Plastic & Reconstructive Surgery at AUMBC, and an expert in the field of conflict Medicine noted a number of injured refugee children point to how the conflict has caused havoc throughout the population of Syrian refugees.
“The sheer number of those who have been injured or are injured as refugees in Lebanon, where 60 percent of this population are under 35, means that the burden on children in these conflicts has been disproportionate in comparison to any other conflict in history,” Dr. Sittah told Annahar. “The nature of injury in the growing child means that it's never going to be a one-stop intervention - because the growing body will need to adjust to the injury.”
For the AUB surgeon, the problem of treating wounded children is not a factor of the number of doctors, but rather the cost, even with many surgeons discounting or waiving their fees. Dr. Abu Sittah also acts as one of INARA’s network of operating surgeons for young refugee patients.
“In Lebanon, there isn't a shortage of medical expertise. Actually, Lebanon is becoming a regional center for this kind of treatment. The issue is the economics of this kind of medical treatment,” Dr. Abu Sittah said. “Lebanon has the technical expertise - the problem is that these kids don't have the financial capability to access this kind of treatment - that's where INARA comes in.”
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