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Handing out Cash to Help Save Lives: Refugee Health in Jordan

This week we had a miracle in our family: my brother and sister-in-law brought Carman Douglas Hamilton, 7 lbs 10 oz, into the world.  I’ve spent hours just staring at pictures of him in the two days since, marveling at his teeny tiny hands and his big feet and his round head and his chubby arms and his puckered lips. It’s my first time being an auntie, and what an amazing feeling!

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Many of you have been witness to a similar miracle – whether you’re a mom or dad or auntie or uncle or grandparent.  And I want you to imagine…

What if just before that birth, you were caught in the middle of a war zone – and had to flee for your life and for the life of this baby?  Or can you imagine having left everything behind, being a stranger in a foreign country, and all of a sudden going into labour?

For a refugee family, birth is still very much part of life.  Yet, many aren’t allowed to work so their finances for paying health bills have been depleted.  Most don’t own a car or have extra money to buy diapers and baby clothes.  And the health facilities that are dedicated to public health care, including for refugees, are overcrowded.

The Government of Jordan has been extremely accommodating for Syrian refugees – for the first four years of Syria’s civil war, all refugees had access to free health care in Jordan.  However, since November 2014, the government had to start charging very nominal fees to help cover the continuing cost of providing health services for a million refugees.

One of Medair’s programmes in Jordan is a “Cash for Health” programme for Syrian refugees.  This programme identifies extremely vulnerable families and gives cash grants to help cover medical costs at public health facilities – including costs for delivering a baby.

Heba and Sham’s Story:  The very first family enrolled in Medair’s cash-for-health programme included little baby Sham and her parents, Heba and Qasem.  When Heba was pregnant, she had an emergency situation with her health.  The first hospital she was taken to refused to give her treatment or deliver her baby due to not matching their admission requirements or being able to pay the fees.  So Qasem had to take her to another hospital in a different governorate.  The Irbid Specialist Hospital agreed to take on Heba’s case.

Despite the medical complications with Heba’s health, baby Sham (which means “Syria”) was born healthy.  Qasem was overjoyed that both his wife and daughter made it through the delivery.  However, next came the challenge of paying for the delivery.  Even after collecting loans and donations from neighbours, friends, and family, Qasem was still not able to pay the fees (equal to just over $100 CAD).

The hospital made Qasem turn in his ID papers until he could pay.  (ID paperwork is quite important here for a refugee.  Without it, refugees can be deported back to Syria.)  Shortly thereafter, Qasem, Heba, and Sham became the first family enrolled in the cash-for-health programme.  Once he received his cash grant, Qasem said:  “With the cash I have received from Medair, I can now pay the rest of the fees to the hospital and get back my Government Identification, buy Heba good food and winter clothes, and get a heater for Sham. Thank you so much Medair, I really don’t know what I would have done!”

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