One Humanity: Supporting Mothers and Infants in the Syrian Refugee CrisisPosted on by
The scale of the Syrian crisis is nearly beyond comprehension: 4.8 million refugees, 8.7 million people displaced inside Syria’s borders. But the numbers don’t tell the whole story.
Across the world, CDC has people on the ground working to protect the health of those affected by the crisis – people like Leisel Talley, whose mission is to help mothers and babies get the nutrition they need, despite unimaginable circumstances.
Fifteen minutes to help
In December 2015, Leisel spent time at the Slavonski Brod transit center in Croatia, where refugees fleeing Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan were processed and registered within Croatia and then sent on to Slovenia. Refugees typically traveled a grueling 12-30 days before reaching Croatia, and only stayed at the Slavonski Brod center for about an hour and a half, during which things moved quickly.
The center provided basic necessities like hygiene kits, hot tea, and meals, as well as reunification services to help people find family members they had lost along the way. The team there also provided access to minimal healthcare, along with space for infant feeding, clothing, and breastfeeding support. This is where Leisel came in. She recalls: “I had 15 minutes to give a comprehensive infant feeding assessment in a 20-foot by 20-foot tent.”
Protecting the smallest refugees
“We asked mothers if they were breastfeeding, which we encouraged,” Liesel explains. “Those who didn’t want to breastfeed were asked to cup-feed infants with a ready-to-use, liquid formula, instead of powdered infant formula, which requires clean water to safely make.”
Globally, less than 40% of children under six months of age are exclusively breastfed, with no other foods or liquids. Babies who are not breastfed are extremely vulnerable to diarrhea and pneumonia, which increases their risk of dying. Breastfeeding lowers the possibility that babies will be fed formula mixed with contaminated water.
Leisel is one of many people working to make the best of a horrible situation. One in every 113 people around the world is now either a refugee, an asylum-seeker, or an internally displaced person. Fifty-one percent of them are children. Working alongside UNICEF, Save the Children and MAGNA, Leisel used every minute she had to help replenish, educate, and prepare the tired refugees for the next leg of their journey.
A day for awareness
August 19th is World Humanitarian Day – an opportunity for us to recognize aid workers and their passion for humanity. The General Assembly designated World Humanitarian Day to coincide with the anniversary of the 2003 bombing of the United Nations (UN) headquarters in Baghdad, Iraq. Please join us in observance of World Humanitarian Day and use the hashtags #sharehumanity and #WorldHumanitarianDay on social media to raise awareness about the millions of people living in crisis around the world and the aid workers who have devoted their lives to this cause.
CDC’s Emergency Response and Recovery Branch has been on the scene in Syria since 2012. The branch has conducted more than 85 humanitarian public health missions related to the crisis, making it the second largest humanitarian response to date, surpassed only by their work following the 2010 Haiti earthquake.
Learn more about the global commitment to humanitarian response:
- In CDC’s Updates From the Field
- From the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
- From the World Health Organization