UPDATE: Sept. 6 ― The Syrian Arab Red Crescent evacuated Yaman and 12 other children out of Madaya and took them to Damascus for medical attention. Read more about his evacuation here.
Up until a few weeks ago, 11-year-old Yaman Ezzedine could sleep through the night. Today, he lies awake suffering from the pain of meningitis in the besieged town of Madaya, Syria, waiting for the treatment he needs.
His mother, Khawalah Jabir, is desperate for aid. “I’m begging you, anyone, help us,” Jabir said. “Help us. No one is helping us.”
For weeks, Yaman’s family has been appealing to aid organizations and the Syrian government to evacuate him so he can receive life-saving treatment for his illness. That treatment may never come.
Yaman is one of many children trapped in this rural town on the outskirts of Damascus, where starvation and a severe lack of medical and humanitarian aid are a part of daily life. He is one of at least 13 individuals in dire need of medical evacuation, according local medical sources.
Madaya lies along strategically important routes both for opposition groups and Syrians fleeing the war, which is part of why the Assad regime has enacted a full blockade of it since last summer. The town gained global attention in January when images of emaciated residents, including many children, emerged from the city, forcing the government to succumb to international pressure and let food and medicine through its borders. Children in the region now face life-threatening conditions including renal failure, rheumatic fever, shrapnel wounds, liver and heart disease ― conditions that require specialist treatment that is currently unavailable at the town’s makeshift hospital. Testimonies gathered by Amnesty International from residents living inside describe their surroundings as “walking skeletons.”
Despite the aid deliveries, reports show that residents in Madaya are dying from malnutrition, starvation and preventable diseases. According to a report published Thursday by Physicians for Human Rights and the Syrian American Medical Society, at least 86 people died in siege-related causes, including 65 from malnutrition and starvation, 14 from landmines, six from snipers and one from a chronic health condition. The report also states that almost all 86 could have been saved if they’d had access to food and medical treatment.
Yaman’s condition continues to worsen
“[Yaman] was diagnosed with meningitis over a month ago with what began as a fever and a severe headache,” Mohamed Darwich, a local Syrian doctor based in Madaya, told The WorldPost. In the last few weeks, Yaman has been unable to identify those around him, including his family, and even reported having some hallucinations.
His situation is only made more difficult as doctors in the area lack the necessary treatment. Although they provided Yaman with basic antibiotics to help bring down his fever, his symptoms quickly came back. “We don’t know what else to do,” Darwich said. “We don’t know what else we can do.”
Aid organizations and human rights groups have collectively condemned the situation in Madaya and have called on international powers to put an end to the suffering. “It is well established that malnourished children under five years old are more vulnerable to infectious diseases and experience higher mortality rates,” Elise Baker, research coordinator for Physicians For Human Rights, said in a statement to The WorldPost. “These conditions should have never developed in Madaya, as there are well-equipped and well-staffed hospitals able to provide needed care just an hour’s drive away in Damascus.”
Meanwhile, Yaman’s mother says she is begging for help from anyone she can get in contact with, including her brother Yousif Jabir in Allentown, Pennsylvania, who is trying to lobby local congressmen and organizations to help his nephew.
“I would wake up at 2 or 3 in the morning in a panic, trying to figure out how to help,” Jabir told The WorldPost. “I’m crying as I’m writing the emails. I’m just emailing and crying, emailing and crying.”
The family gained a little hope when when news broke that a young girl was evacuated out of Madaya to a hospital in Damascus after being shot by a sniper. They are hoping Yaman can receive similar aid.
“He is an extremely active boy,” his mother said. “And he is loved. All his friends love him and want him to get better.”
Yaman loves swimming, basketball and soccer, and was always helping his father on the family farm before he got sick, his mother said.
“He was such a talented and energetic boy, but now he can barely move because of the pain. I stopped seeing the world whenever he cries,” she said.
Every day, she said, Yaman asks her: “Is it really possible I may never walk or play basketball again?”
She doesn’t have a response.