From Aleppo to Atma: Defying the odds to save lives
“I had to be the doctor, gynecologist, midwife, and nurse because there was no other choice.”
Dr Amina Najib recalls the time when she helped women give birth in her own kitchen in north-west Syria. When she first arrived to Atma in northern Idleb in 2012, there were no female doctors nor midwives let alone a fully equipped medical center.
After graduating from medical school in 1997, Dr Najib resided in Aleppo to realize her childhood dream of becoming a health worker. When the conflict broke out in the country, she was forced to flee the city with her family and took refuge in Atma, a village whose population did not exceed 15,000 people at the time.
Today, Dr Najib is a Medical Manager and a family medicine specialist at the Al-Ikha'a Hospital in the same village. The four-story hospital treats more than 8,000 patients per month with the support of 115 staff including 72 health workers.
But the path to today has not been so easy.
“Many families who fled to northern Syria at the start of the crisis left their homes with nothing but spare clothes. We thought that things would deescalate and return to normalcy within weeks,” says Dr Najib.
Without adequate shelters, families resorted to sleeping on the floors. Massive inflows of people soon led to issues of overcrowding, creating an ideal environment for diseases to spread rapidly, particularly among children and pregnant women.
“When I first got to Atma, there was only one pediatrician. In cases of emergency, there was just no time to refer patients and we had to make the best of what we had,” she adds.
With the support of non-governmental organizations, she transformed her home into a makeshift clinic for pregnant women. Her kitchen became an operating theater. Tables, chairs and everyday items became supportive medical resources.
News of her health services soon spread to neighboring towns and over this period, Dr Najib shares that nearly 700 women were successfully supported in labor operations.
A silver lining came in September 2013 when the first medical center was established in the area. By April 2015, the center quickly grew into a full-fledge hospital in partnership with the Syrian Expatriate Medical Association (SEMA), a medical relief organization founded in 2011 as a response to the crisis in the country.
To this day, SEMA continues to support Dr Najib and her teams at the Al-Ikha'a Hospital through regular virtual consultations with health practitioners and specialists. When COVID-19 struck north-west Syria in 2020, SEMA rapidly provided awareness trainings, secured vaccines and established three isolation hopistals.
“We now even have an advanced Intensive Care Unit (ICU) at our hospital which is the first in the area. When I see all these developments, it makes me feel very proud,” tells Dr Najib.
“After all difficult moments, I have no regrets that I stayed in my country to help my people against all odds.”
SEMA is among the humanitarian partners financially supported by the Syria Cross-border Humanitarian Fund (SCHF), a country-based pooled fund managed by OCHA Turkey. In 2021, the SCHF allocated over $167 million to fund life-saving and early recovery projects in north-west Syria.