By Dr. Zaher Sahloul, MedGlobal President and Co-Founder
Three years ago, I was in Yemen with three other medical volunteers, providing internal medicine and pediatrics services to people suffering from the effects of war and famine. MedGlobal had just been formed. In between medical consultations, we talked about the goals for the future of our organization, dedicated to providing innovative healthcare to crisis-affected and low-resource areas.
But I could have never predicted how many people we would reach in just three years.
In the last three years, we have:
Served more than 204,700 patients all around the world.
Provided local health facilities with more than $16.2 million in medical supplies, equipment, and assistance.
Mobilized 455 health volunteers from 26 countries to provide their skills in medical trainings and consultations for areas most in need.
Expanded our operations to serve the most vulnerable communities in 14 countries: Bangladesh, Colombia, Ecuador, Gaza, Greece, Kurdistan in Iraq, Lebanon, Pakistan, Sierra Leone, Sudan, Syria, the United States, Venezuela, and Yemen.
I also never could have predicted this difficult moment in time – six months into a global pandemic, seeing record daily increases in COVID-19. Our countries of operation have been hit with new and ongoing crises: a devastating fire on Lesvos Island, Greece, just burned the Moria refugee camp to the ground; the explosion in Beirut created a new humanitarian emergency; Sudan and Bangladesh are experiencing record-breaking floods; and the protracted conflicts in Syria and Yemen have led to unthinkable suffering. We still have a lot of work to do.
Every day, however, I am inspired by you – my health colleagues, community members, and supporters from around the world. You remind me that our organization’s mission is possible: to create a world without healthcare disparity.
Last night, devastating fires tore through the overcrowded Moria refugee camp on Lesvos Island, Greece, burning the camp to the ground and forcing thousands of refugees and asylum seekers to flee.
The fire destroyed the health clinic MedGlobal supports, along with all of its medical equipment, supplies, and medicine in the clinic. Thankfully, our clinic staff, partners, and their families are safe. However, more than 12,000 refugees and asylum seekers who resided in the Moria camp are now again displaced, and were forced to sleep on the streets overnight.
This devastating fire occurred just one week after COVID-19 reached the camp. As of September 8, 35 people had tested positive for COVID-19 in the Moria camp. The residents of the camp were facing a strict collective quarantine because of the virus outbreak.
Abdul Hadi Shahud, the Operations Manager of Kitrinos Healthcare and Moria Camp Coordinator for MedGlobal, said, “This is the worst case scenario for refugees here. Thousands of refugees and asylum seekers fled the camp last night as it burned, and slept in the streets. We are worried about their health and safety, and concerned that COVID-19 will spread even faster now. This is an emergency.”
MedGlobal has been providing health care to refugees in the Moria camp since 2018 along with our partner Kitrinos Healthcare. The MedGlobal team is heartbroken for the refugees and asylum seekers who have been through this devastating fire, after having already faced displacement and years in the overcrowded and dire conditions of Moria camp.
This is a truly devastating crisis. MedGlobal is working with urgency to raise funds alongside Kitrinos Healthcare to continue to provide medical care for the residents of the Moria camp and support them in meeting their basic needs. While the health clinic is destroyed, MedGlobal is working to immediately support:
A mobile clinic using an ambulance on the ground, so that refugees and migrants from Moria camp can immediately access health care.
Vital medical equipment and supplies to replace what was lost.
Basic needs, including food and water, for those who have lost what little they had in the Moria camp fire.
Press Release: MedGlobal Calls for Foreign Medical Doctors to be Granted Licenses to Help in COVID-19 Response
Washington, DC – MedGlobal thanks Governor Phil Murphy of New Jersey for signing Executive Order No. 112 which grants temporary U.S. licenses to doctors who are licensed and in good standing in foreign countries.
This Executive Order for New Jersey is a critical step in enabling foreign medical professionals to assist in the urgent and extensive response to COVID-19 in the United States. As of April 1, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported 186,101 cases and 3,603 deaths from the virus in the U.S.
MedGlobal urges all governors to authorize similar executive orders, granting temporary US medical licenses to doctors who are licensed in foreign countries.
“During times of disasters, it is expected that policy makers modify public policies in order to save more lives. Now, with the U.S. at the epicenter of this global pandemic, we are suffering from a shortage of medical professionals that may get even worse as more patients and healthcare workers get exposed to or infected with COVID-19,” said Dr. Zaher Sahloul, President of MedGlobal. “It is vital that US-based foreign doctors (IMGs) – who are able to use their skills to save lives – are granted licenses to practice medicine across the U.S. during this dangerous pandemic.”
MedGlobal provides free healthcare and life-saving medication to vulnerable communities across the world, including Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, displaced Venezuelan in Colombia, refugees in Greece, and victims of wars in Syria, Yemen, Lebanon, and Gaza. These communities are bracing for a catastrophic COVID-19 outbreak. MedGlobal is scaling up its work during this time with an international COVID-19 response, including providing medical supplies, ventilators, medical technology for Intensive Care Units, and personal protective equipment (PPE) for healthcare workers in Gaza, Syria, Yemen, Bangladesh, and beyond. Our volunteers and local staff are honored to serve these communities, and we implore all U.S. governors to grant foreign doctors the ability to offer the same care and solidarity to COVID-19 patients here in the U.S.
Reflection on the Targeted Attacks on Medical Volunteers and Refugees in Lesvos, Greece
By Ameer Sharifzadeh, MD
Note from MedGlobal: The situation in Moria Camp and throughout Lesvos Island in Greece is changing rapidly in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. The clinic discussed in this blog post is temporarily closed because of COVID-19 safety concerns, but MedGlobal is working with local partners to assess how best we can support the health needs of refugees in Moria Camp at this critical moment. This post highlights an experience on March 1, before the COVID-19 outbreaks had spread to Greece or had a global reach.
In the last few weeks, tensions between refugees and groups protesting their presence on Lesvos – a Greek island off the coast of Turkey hosting more than 25,000 refugees from Syria, Afghanistan and elsewhere – escalated to targeted attacks on refugees and volunteer staff on the Island. I was among the medical workers who experienced an attack.
I am an Emergency Medicine physician and medical volunteer with Chicago-based MedGlobal, one of several NGOs providing medical care to the thousands of refugees at Moria refugee camp on Lesvos. Compelled by the desire to provide medical care to underserved and vulnerable populations fleeing danger, I originally planned to stay for a couple of weeks, but my time at Moria camp was severely shortened.
After we finished up at the clinic for the day on March 1, we were notified that the bus system had ceased operations due to suspected protests against the growing number of refugees on the island. Several NGOs assisted in transporting us back to our volunteer homes. On our way back home, a roadblock was formed by a massive gathering of shouting protesters on foot, motorbikes, and the back of pick-up trucks all holding clubs, baseball bats, and chains. They ordered us to turn around, continued yelling, and in the midst of attempting to turn around, they began smashing the windows of our cars.
All 8 cars suffered severe damages and the back window of the car I was in was completely shattered. The experience was terrifying and disturbing, but fortunately, none of the volunteers in our group suffered injuries beyond minor abrasions. Other roadblocks had proceeded to form, necessitating our return back to the refugee camp, which had become the safest place on the island for us. Refugees kindly brought us falafel sandwiches and warm blankets while we awaited a safe return.
Word quickly spread that we were not the only ones. Reports of journalists, other aid workers, and refugees being attacked by rioters filled social media. The staging facility in the north shore of the island where refugees often arrive and are provided with blankets and essential items was lit on fire.
We were able to escape back to our homes in the middle of the night when the roads became somewhat clear but still with speckles of protestors on the roads.
Unfortunately, violence, intimidation, and fear tactics continued the next day. Numerous medical and non-medical volunteers had to evacuate due to safety concerns. Medical volunteers who had been at Moria camp much longer than me stated it was generally a peaceful experience until recently.
In fact, in 2016, the residents of Lesvos attracted extensive praise in the media for their warm and welcoming reception of refugees. Moria camp, originally designed to support approximately 3,000 refugees, has increased in size to more than 25,000 refugees—spilling well beyond the original confinements into the adjacent olive groves. Since Turkey’s announcement to open their borders for refugees to freely cross into Europe, the number of refugees arriving to Lesvos and other Aegean Islands such as Chios and Samos had amassed to more than 1,000 refugees over several days likely exacerbating growing frustration of locals.
Local residents feel they have been dealt an unfair burden having to support increasing number of refugee arrivals whereas the island is at capacity due to Europe and Athens’ failure to alleviate the pressure on the Aegean islands. This desperation after seven years of dealing with this political crisis has led to violent fringe groups winning some support through targeted right wing messaging.
Despite the growing tension and descent into chaos on the Aegean islands, the EU announced support for further militarization on Europe’s borders without immediate plans to evacuate the camp of which about half are children whose safety is at risk.
The people of Lesvos have been asked to do too much for too many with too few resources. It is up to the rest of the world to help them and accept asylum seekers within their borders, including the US. The US accepted 2,000 refugees from Afghanistan in 2018, and the camp has many cases of translators who helped US troops. The US has the responsibility and duty to accept refugees from all over the world, including Afghanistan, named the most dangerous country on earth this year.
We must stand together and help alleviate the burden of this humanitarian and political crisis on Greece before more human lives are lost.
Ameer Sharifzadeh, MD, is an Emergency Medicine resident physician based in Chicago and a medical volunteer with MedGlobal.
1. In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the UNHCR has announced temporary suspension of refugee resettlement, though when the program restarts it is critical that the US and all countries accept their fair share of refugees.
In the midst of the deadly global COVID-19 pandemic, MedGlobal urges immediate and urgent action to support refugees, displaced persons, and the most vulnerable communities. MedGlobal warns of the potential for a catastrophic impact of the dangerous virus on refugees and other vulnerable communities, and commits itself to adapting programs in the most effective ways to meet their needs.
“While the global health community and countries are busy with curbing the spread of COVID-19, let us not forget the refugees and the displaced,” said Dr. Zaher Sahloul, President and Co-founder of MedGlobal. “It is our humanitarian duty, and the right thing to do, to prevent catastrophic morbidity and mortality in a population that is unable to deal with the pandemic effectively.”
There are over 70 million refugees and forcibly displaced persons in the world. They will be the hit hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic, as many are confined to cramped environments like overcrowded camps or communities in urban areas where disease can rapidly spread. The majority do not have access to basic preventive measures like clean water, soap, cleaning solutions, sufficient sanitation facilities, or the ability to social distance or self-isolate. Refugees and displaced persons are made even more vulnerable by the lack of access to testing, limited access to sufficient medical care like Intensive Care Units in case they contract COVID-19, and damaged or destroyed health infrastructure as a result of conflict. These conditions could easily facilitate the rapid spread of COVID-19, with a mortality rate predicted to be much higher than the general population.
MedGlobal provides free healthcare and life-saving medication to Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, displaced Venezuelan in Colombia, and refugees in Greece, in addition to local communities in Pakistan and victims of wars in Syria, Yemen, Lebanon, and Gaza. These communities are bracing for a catastrophic COVID-19 outbreak.
The MedGlobal team is acting with urgency to support brave frontline health workers and vulnerable communities during this COVID-19 pandemic. To date, our team has taken the following steps to adapt our operations and respond to COVID-19:
Emergency Needs Assessments: We are working with our teams and partners in Bangladesh, Colombia, Greece, Pakistan, Yemen, Gaza, Lebanon, and Syria to compile emergency needs assessments to understand the current situation locally and respond in the most effective way for each setting.
Emergency Supplies and Triage Programs: Based on local needs, we are ramping up provision of medical supplies to support local health workers and communities, including soap, washing units, personal hygiene kits, and cleaning solutions; medications, ventilators, oxygen masks, and medical technology for Intensive Care Units; Protective Personal Equipment (PPE) including masks, gowns, gloves and eye shields. With top experts around the world, we are developing emergency triage programs in preparation for potential COVID-19 outbreaks.
New Prevention Measures for our Clinics: Our full-time clinics in Bangladesh and Colombia continue to function, with new infection control and prevention measures implemented in coordination with partners.
Clinical Resources: We are designing resources pertaining to COVID-19 tailored specifically to our field operations, including recommendations on infection control and prevention based on CDC, WHO and UNHCR data; clinical management of suspected cases; and emergency planning in the case of an outbreak.
Educational Online Programs: We are planning webinars and educational programs for the general public, which aim to present the potential impact COVID-19 may have on refugee communities. Our first webinar on COVID-19 is Tuesday, March 24 from 9am-11am CST.
Mental Health Response: We are designing a mental health plan in the context of COVID-19, including a webinar for all staff wellbeing on coping with the COVID-19 threat and a webinar for field staff on how to support patients’ mental health during the pandemic.
MedGlobal will continue to prioritize the needs of the most vulnerable and marginalized, primarily communities of refugees, displaced persons, and others facing crises. We will continue to work with brave health workers across the globe to ensure that we are able to reach and support these communities, who must not be forgotten during this global pandemic.
Join us in supporting health workers on the front lines, helping vulnerable communities preparing for COVID-19 outbreaks.
Updates on MedGlobal programs amid COVID-19 concerns
MedGlobal is closely monitoring the outbreak of COVID-19. We have suspended our short-term missions until further notice, however, our ongoing programs are operating to provide life-saving care and we are the front line of prevention in our Colombia & Bangladesh clinics.
Greece & Bangladesh: Our clinic is still operational and with our local partners we continue to see patients and provide much needed medical equipment and supplies.
Yemen: We are continuing to spend a $750k grant over the next few months in delivering medical aid and supplies.
“While the global health community and countries are busy with curbing the spread of the COVID-19, let us not forget the refugees and the displaced. It is our humanitarian duty and it is also the right thing to do to prevent catastrophic morbidity and mortality in a population that is unable to deal with the pandemic effectively.” – Dr. Zaher Sahloul
MedGlobal will continue the planning for future training and periodic missions to other countries and will incorporate Infectious Diseases and Critical Care specialists and COVID-19 training for all upcoming programs.
MedGlobal Deeply Concerned about Attacks on Medical Volunteers and Refugees in Greece
March 4, 2020
Washington, DC – MedGlobal expresses deep concern about the recent attacks against humanitarians, including MedGlobal volunteers, and refugees in Greece.
MedGlobal has been working with Kitrinos Healthcare to provide medical services to refugees in the Moria Camp on Lesvos Island since 2018. It supports the only primary healthcare clinic in the camp by sending volunteers as well as medication and supplies. Healthcare services include emergency care, obstetrics, pediatrics and general medicine to refugees in Greece. Both organizations continue to support the healthcare system on the Greek islands, by sharing the burden of care for incoming refugees.
During the late hours of Sunday afternoon, unprecedented and unprovoked violence from protesters erupted as members of the MedGlobal and Kitrinos team were ending a clinical shift. As they proceeded back to their accommodation, their cars were attacked and many volunteers were left stranded overnight inside camp Moria. Fortunately, none of the volunteers were physically harmed. They have now been safely evacuated from the area, and Greek authorities have followed up on the situation.
Refugee and migrant arrivals to Greece have increased over the last several days. MedGlobal urges the prioritization of the protection and rights of refugees and migrants arriving in Greece, and the safety of organizations like MedGlobal and humanitarian workers on the ground. MedGlobal reiterates the commitment to continuing to serve refugees and vulnerable people in Greece and beyond. “Our priority is the protection and safety of our volunteers and the communities that we serve. Through our health work, we have been honored to work with good-hearted Greek people who have always been welcoming to refugees. We will continue to support refugees and new arrivals on Lesvos Island to the best of our ability, and unequivocally call for their dignity and protection,” said MedGlobal President Dr. Zaher Sahloul.
MedGlobal along with Kitrinos will continue to support health services for refugees in Greece. The medical clinic supported by MedGlobal and Kitrinos had been closed for three days due to the rising tensions, and MedGlobal expresses concern about the impact of continued closures to thousands of refugee families residing in the camp. MedGlobal urges authorities to continue to ensure that medical practitioners and humanitarians are allowed to continue their care for vulnerable refugees without interruption.
A Global First Responder’s diary from Moria Camp in Greece
By Adam Beckett, MedGlobal Volunteer & Global First Responder
I am doing a little insightful reading for the long journey ahead from a leader I truly admire. I had the fortunate opportunity of meeting with Dr. Farmer, along with Mr. Bill and Melinda Gates and their family, in Mirraballe, Haiti, years ago. After meeting such altruistic individuals, my determination was reinforced on in our mission.
The global humanitarian crisis continues to worsen as I travel to join my friends at the MedGlobal clinic at the Moria refugee camp in Lesbos, Greece. Moria camp is at over-capacity and in crisis with 18,000 refugees – it was originally designed for only 2,000 people.
Before I depart, I want to shout out to the Global First Responder (GFR) team who is set to depart in three days for the Bahamas for continuing relief efforts in Great Guana Cay. 2020 will be a busy year in Global Service! We are ready, confident and determined in the mission.
As I wrap today up – day two into a busy week – I am seeing a large number of patients and witnessing a crisis unfold in Lesbos. Large numbers of people are still arriving every day. I give the utmost respect to NGOs and the Greek government for doing all that they do to assist in this unfathomable situation. No photos or words are enough to depict the situation.
I am witnessing teams working together between all of the aid groups in the most unimaginable circumstances. As we see these situations progress, it’s important to realize we are all part of one global family and it is not beyond any understanding to think that one day, this situation could happen to any of us.
For those of us involved now, and the many that will be joining us in the future, we have one common belief – a moral obligation to act, a responsibility to humanity. After all, it is our global family out there that we need to care for!
“One World, One Family!”
I am finishing up from a very busy week in Moria camp and am sharing a few pictures to showing why we are here. I am thankful to be part of the MedGlobal team, working in a complex situation at a high volume clinic, serving more than 19,000 people. MedGloblal is a diverse team of volunteers e from countries all over the world including the UK, Greece, Norway, Ireland, Syria, Afghanistan, Yemen, Belarus, Slovakia, Somalia, and Sri Lanka to name a few.
*photos taken with respect and permission.
“One Global Family!”
Support MedGlobal’s medical response in Moria Camp, Greece – donate today!
MedGlobal Volunteer Opportunities: Clinic serving refugees in Greece needs medical volunteers for 2020
Over 50,000 refugees have arrived by sea at the Greek Agean Islands of Lesvos, Samos, and Leros in 2019 – a significant increase from 2018. Currently, there are 14,000 refugees in the Moria Reception and Identification Center, on Lesvos Island, which is a camp built to hold about 3,000 people. The situation is dismal, and, as you might imagine, even the most basic needs such as water, food, hygiene, and shelter are stretched beyond the limits.
MedGlobal and Kitrinos Healthcare, our sister organization, have the only acute care clinic in the camp. We need primary care volunteers (FPs, internists, ER doctors, FNPs) as well as nurses for this clinic.
A one-week stay is a minimum, but longer stays are suggested. Translators are available, however, Urdu, French, and Arabic fluencies are welcome. If you are interested in volunteering, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org. If you have questions about the deployment, contact Dr. John Kahler at email@example.com.
Save Lives, Give Zakat to MedGlobal before the year ends
According to Islamic scholars, Zakat, or almsgiving should be given to the most vulnerable, the needy, and displaced (al-masakeen and wayfarers).
Your Zakat helps us save lives and provide healing by supporting:
Necessary medications and medical supplies
Performing life-saving surgeries on the needy
Direct nursing or medical care
MedGlobal is a Zakat-eligible charity organization that saves lives and provides medical relief and services to refugees and victims of disasters in 14 different countries including:
Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh. So far, we served 98,000 Rohingya refugees, like Hasina Begum in the Kutupalong refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar.
Syrian refugees and victims of war in Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq. So far, we have provided more than $1,000,000 of much-needed assistance to patients like Abdullah, a victim of barrel bombs in Idlib.
Refugees in Greece, like Mohammad, a refugee from Afghanistan in Moria camp.
Victims of war in Gaza. So far we have provided $400,000 to Palestinian patients like Maryam, a patient with cancer in Al-Shifa hospital in Gaza city.
Victims of war in Yemen. So far we have provided more than $1,000,000 to Yemeni patients like Sabaa, a child with severe malnutrition in Al-Jawf.