Church fills gap in medical care for Syria’s ‘Valley of the Christians’

Categories: Christians Under Siege, News

MZEINA HOSPITAL is situated in the small town of Mzeina, one of several cities that make up the Valley of the Christians (Wadi Al-Nasara, in Arabic), a rural region of Syria close to the border with Lebanon and roughly halfway between the city of Homs and the Mediterranean coast. “The hospital has been open for four years now and for the past two years the number of admissions, surgeries and basic treatments has been growing steadily,” says the hospital’s director, Dr. Sam Abboud.

Christians in the Middle East are under siege, including in Syria, where the civil war continues and where many Christians are too poor to afford proper medical care
Dr. Abboud, far left, with staff and volunteers, outside Mzeina Hospital

The country’s ongoing civil war seems far away, yet the doctors and their co-workers at the hospital report that the situation is still as bad as or worse than before. “People come to us asking for help and tell us that in other hospitals they couldn’t get treatment because they did not have enough money. We don’t simply tell them to go away; we try to help them in every way we can,” says Toni Tannous, who heads the physiotherapy team.

The doctors themselves and other hospital have themselves been confronted with the effects of war. “I had to flee from Homs because of the war,” Tannous continues, “and now I am working here. All of us feel a sense of responsibility to help in whatever way we can.” This hospital, which treats thousands of people every month and houses almost 500 patients, works closely with the Saint Peter’s Aid Center, which is run by the Melkite Church in the nearby town of Marmarita.

“At the healthcare center run by the Melkite Church in Marmarita we attend to more than 100 urgent medical cases a month; in other cases we cover the cost of medicines. We take the families to the hospital as we have an agreement with the Mzeina Hospital to treat them there,” explains Elías Jahloum, a volunteer and coordinator at the Saint Peter’s Aid Center.

“In the Valley of the Christians there are no public hospitals; the closest ones are in Homs or Tartus, an hour or more away by car. That is why the healthcare service offered by the Church in this region is greatly appreciated by those displaced by the war, and who have few financial means,” Jahloum adds.

Care for a number of patients at the hospital is paid for by the Saint Peter’s Aid Center with the financial support of Aid to the Church in Need (ACN). “We know that there are people in many countries around the world who are helping us. Every day we pray for them and give thanks to God,” says Najwa Arabi, a middle-aged woman who had just undergone surgery on her stomach.

Maryam Hourani, the mother of Janadios, a boy barely more than one year old, who is recovering from bronchiolitis. “He was very ill and could hardly breathe when we brought him to the hospital,” his mother explains. “We contacted Elias and he assured us that the Saint Peter’s Aid Centre would pay his costs. I can only say thank you.” Equally grateful is a young woman, Shasha Khoury, who is recovering from surgery for a breast tumor. “I’m five months pregnant”, she says, adding: “It is a boy and he’s going to be called Fayez, which means ‘winner,’” she smiles.

Christians in the Middle East are under siege, including in Syria, where the civil war continues and where many Christians are too poor to afford proper medical care
Valley of the Christians, the view from Marmarita

Dr. Abboud, an ear, nose and throat specialist, explains that some of the surgeries at the hospital are free and that there is a special program for children and young people with hearing problems. “Many of these cases are caused by bombs and other explosions during the war,” he explains, adding that the biggest difficulties the hospital faces is the lack of new medical equipment with which they can operate better, and constant power cuts. “Although in the past year we have managed to obtain medicines which until recently were impossible to find in Syria,” the doctor reports.

“Whenever a difficult case crops up in the hospital, with a patient who has very little money, we always try to help by giving a discount and extending the payment period. When such cases occur, we call the Saint Peter’s Aid Center, knowing that Elias there or Father Walid, the parish priest of Saint Peter’s Church in Marmarita, will always respond to our requests,” Toni Tannous says. The Church’s work on behalf of those displaced by war and the local poor is quite literally saving many lives.

ACN sends some $60,000 every month to the Saint Peter’s Aid Centre in Marmarita, a large part of which goes to cover the cost of essential medicines and medical care for more than 4,000 people. “We continue to need your aid. You are the hope of all these people, and a wonderful example for our society,” says Dr. Abboud.

—Josué Villalon

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