How Far Would You Go?

Accessing health services in the midst of an emergency

It could be mountains, jungle, or insecurity. It could be protests or floods. It could simply be too expensive. Millions of people around the world face significant barriers to health care, especially during humanitarian emergencies. Here are the barriers families can face in accessing health services in the countries where we work – and what we are doing to help.


AFGHANISTAN — A vehicle drives through mountainous terrain
in the Central Highlands region.

Around 41 percent of children living in Afghanistan are stunted – one of the highest rates in the world, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. But for families living in the mountainous Central Highlands region, accessing health services needed to treat chronic and acute malnutrition is difficult because many of the villages are so remote. Health clinics in neighbouring communities may be under-resourced, while larger provincial hospitals may take hours or days to reach by car, on foot, or via donkey. Moving from one village to another becomes a particular challenge in the wintertime, when roads can become impassable due to rain or snow.


A mother holds her child as he is assessed for malnutrition at a mobile clinic
in a village in the Central Highlands region.

Our nutrition teams use mobile clinics to deliver essential  services to remote communities in the Central Highlands. Families still walk considerable distances through mountain passes and valleys to reach the clinic, but it’s a shorter journey than they may otherwise need to take. ‘If the nutrition team had not come to my village, we would have had to walk three hours to reach the nearest clinic,’ says Amina, who brought her son in for treatment. Our teams can provide these services because the caregivers we support are committed to bringing their children back visit after visit to make sure they can grow healthy and strong.


Jihad, a trained physiotherapist working with our team in Syria, straps a young boy with limited mobility into a new wheelchair provided by Medair.

According to the UN Humanitarian Needs Assessment Programme, 27 percent of Syrians over the age of 12 now have a mobility impairment. With the health infrastructure so limited, however, there is relatively little support available for individuals with a physical disability. We’re providing essential health services and rehabilitating damaged health clinics in Syria, including providing spaces and training for physiotherapy services. We’re also providing mobility devices such as wheelchairs and walkers for individuals with limited mobility, helping ensure they have a safe and dignified way to move throughout their communities.



SOUTH SUDAN – Kalayn, centre, sits with a group of women outside of a Medair-supported health clinic in Pibor County.

Only 44 percent of the population of South Sudan has access to health care, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Violence, limited infrastructure, and natural disasters such as flooding impede access to lifesaving health services. We work in some of the most remote and hard-to-reach areas of South Sudan, helping bring essential services to communities in need of support.



A group of volunteers carry measles vaccinations through a flooded river to a community in Pibor County.

Our health teams in South Sudan travel by car, on foot, and by boat to deliver humanitarian support to communities without health services. Our colleagues and volunteers – many of whom come from the very communities we serve – play a vital role in getting aid to where it needs to be. But our efforts to go the extra mile are met with equal determination by the communities we serve.



Haier, 22, sits with her son Mustafa at a Medair-supported health clinic in Renk County, South Sudan.

Haier travelled for months to find adequate health care services for her son, Mustafa, who suffered from malnutrition. ‘I went to Sudan; my child didn’t improve. I went to private hospitals; my child didn’t improve,’ she says. After months of travel with her son in her arms, she came to one of our supported treatment centres in Renk County. Things improved almost immediately. ‘Everything had failed and when I came here, that’s when things started to change,’ Haier says. Her relentlessness paid off: Mustafa is now on the road to recovery.


LEBANON — Destruction in Beirut following the massive explosion at the city’s port on 4 August 2020.

Families in Lebanon have faced an extremely challenging year. Even before a massive explosion tore through the heart of Beirut last August, the country faced almost a year of economic and political turmoil – including protests and road closures – in addition to COVID-19 lockdowns. The cumulative impact of these crises is having an impact on the country’s health status: According to the Ministry of Public Health, there has been a 47 percent drop in routine childhood immunizations since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.



A father plays with his son while they wait to see a doctor in a Medair-supported health clinic in the Bekaa Valley.

With the economic downturn in Lebanon, inflation rates on the Lebanese pound have meant that some vaccines – including those for COVID-19 – can cost as much as one month’s salary. That is a prohibitively high cost for both vulnerable Lebanese families and Syrian refugee families. In Lebanon, we’re providing primary health services at health clinics and Social Development Centres in Central, West, and North Bekaa to improve access to health services. These services include providing key childhood vaccinations free of charge.



DEMOCRATOC REPUBLIC OF CONGO — A member of Medair’s health team crosses a flooded river en route to a remote health clinic in a village in North Kivu province.

© Medair / Odile Meylan

Our health teams go to extraordinary lengths to delivery essential health services to remote communities in eastern DR Congo. The journeys can sometimes take days, accompanied by dedicated members of the community and clinic staff to ensure medicines and equipment get to the communities where they’re needed most. Our health interventions support families affected by violence, providing free health support to children aged five and under, pregnant women, and new mothers.



Jeanne, in green, stands in front of the maternity ward at a health clinic in North Kivu province. Jeanne is pregnant; like the women she waits with, she is fast approaching the due date for her child’s birth.

Often, our support for remote communities means we’re able to bring essential health services that much closer to families who may otherwise not have access. For Jeanne, who is eight months pregnant (in the green dress), that means she doesn’t need to risk traveling through insecure areas to reach the health services she needs to safely give birth. In the last two weeks of her pregnancy, she has decided to stay at this Medair-supported health clinic in North Kivu, knowing she’ll have access to quality health services that will be provided free-of-charge when she gives birth. ‘Staying here is lonely sometimes,’ Jeanne says. ‘But I feel safe for my child, knowing that there are doctors and health workers who will watch over us here.’



JORDAN — Afif, a refugee from Syria, stands in front of the tent where he lives with his wife and son, just north of Amman.

© Medair / Mona van den Berg

Ten years into the Syria Crisis, many vulnerable and refugee families like Afif’s are struggling to survive. The cost of living in Jordan is very high – including for essential services like health care. Vulnerable families often struggle to find the means to cover even food and rent, let alone health care. ‘Many families just don’t have extra money to pay for hospital bills,’ says Razan, a member of Medair’s health team in Jordan.




Lena, left, holds her son Abbas, while her mother-in-law Saadya looks on. Saadya, Lena, and their family are all from Syria. They fled the crisis in Syria in 2011 and have been living in this tent on the outskirts of Amman for years.

At birth, Abbas needed lifesaving surgery. He got that surgery and is now a happy, healthy little boy – but the costs associated with the surgery were prohibitively high. Under pressure to pay the bill for the surgery, Abbas’s lifesaving surgery suddenly became an even greater source of stress.

Abbas’s surgery was paid for by our Jordan team under our cash-for-health intervention, which helps vulnerable families pay for essential and lifesaving medical treatment that they may not otherwise be able to afford. ‘Without this support, we would have had to beg,’ says Saadya. ‘We couldn’t have paid.’



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This content was produced with resources gathered by Medair field and headquarters staff. The views expressed herein are those solely of Medair and should not be taken, in any way, to reflect the official opinion of any other organisation.