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 MU Health Care Team Plans Relief Work at Syrian War Refugee Camp

COLUMBIA, Mo. - A team of three University of Missouri Health Care emergency medical professionals will spend 10 days in the Zaatari refugee camp near Amman, Jordan, from June 12 to 22. The team will provide medical relief and education to refugees of the Syrian civil war.

“This is the largest humanitarian crisis of our generation,” said Rick Baker, flight paramedic with University Hospital’s Staff for Life Helicopter Service and local organizer of the trip. “The civil war in Syria is displacing millions of people. The countries that are taking in these people don’t have the necessary infrastructure to properly handle the influx of refugees.”

Since the Syrian civil war began in 2011, more than 4 million people have fled the embattled country. More than 130,000 refugees, including approximately 60,000 children, now call the Zaatari refugee camp home. Thousands of tents make up the forced community, which has become the fourth largest city in Jordan and the largest Syrian refugee camp in the country.

Syria’s health care system has experienced a collapse because of the conflict, leading to a shortage of health care providers. Baker, along with Adam Beckett, D.O., emergency room physician at University Hospital, and Stacey Lake, R.N., emergency room nurse at University Hospital, will provide basic medical care such as vaccinations, inoculations and checkups, as well as emergency care. The team also will educate refugees on sterile practices to curb an increase in preventable infections and diseases such as polio.

Between Baker and Beckett, the two have served on more than 30 overseas medical mission trips, offering relief in Haiti, Kenya, South America and Southeast Asia. The team, which also includes Matt Ford of Handy-Matt LLC, will meet with 17 other U.S. volunteers before entering Jordan. The effort is being coordinated through the Seattle-based relief agency Salaam Cultural Museum.

“When we arrive, we will be working with the United Nations and Doctors Without Borders,” said Beckett, who serves as the director of international medicine at MU Health Care. “The clinics there are all overwhelmed, which is similar to when we were down in Haiti following the earthquake, but this will be a completely different experience.”

The United Nations and the World Health Organization have set up portable hygiene stations throughout the camp, and makeshift storefronts line the main roads of the camp, which is located about 8 miles from the Syrian border in the Jordanian desert. Medical clinics dot the perimeter of the city, though for safety reasons, there are only a few clinics inside the camp. The team will travel 50 miles from Amman into the heart of the camp each morning to provide care at a central clinic and will leave before nightfall.