Jordan: Access to Medical Care at Risk for Syrian Refugees

JORDAN 2017 © Maya Abu Ata/MSF

AMMAN, JORDAN/NEW YORK, APRIL 24, 2018—Jordan’s recent decision to increase health care fees for Syrian refugees could reduce their access to medical assistance, making them even more vulnerable, the international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) said today, the first day of the Brussels Conference on Syria.

After subsidies were canceled in February, Syrian refugees in Jordan must now pay 80 percent of the "foreigner rate" to access public health care services, increasing out-of-pocket costs to two to five times what they paid previously in many cases. MSF is urging donor countries to scale up health funding for Syrian refugees.

"We are concerned that Syrian families could start to deprioritize seeking health care because of other living expenses, such as rent," said Brett Davis, MSF head of mission in Jordan. "As adaptive measures, Syrians may resort to self-medication or alternative, less costly means of treatment that could be inadequate or even harmful."

Syrians already experienced difficulties in accessing basic health care in Jordan after a previous decision in November 2014 to cancel free medical services for Syrians living outside refugee camps.

According to a survey of Syrian refugees conducted by MSF in Jordan in 2016, roughly 30 percent of adults requiring medical care reported they did not seek medical services, usually because it was unaffordable. Syrian refugees' incomes were very low, and nearly 80 percent of households reported being in debt.

In March, MSF's maternity and primary health care programs in Jordan saw a 20 percent increase in patients as more Syrian refugees traveled greater distances to access MSF's services, which are provided free of charge. The cancellation of health care subsidies will further exacerbate Syrians' vulnerability.

"When they'd fall sick, I used to take my daughters to the doctor," one 38-year-old Syrian patient told MSF. "Now, I do not take them because the cost of a doctor's visit has gone up to nine Jordanian dinars [about $13 U.S.], which I cannot afford."

Some patients have decided to buy medicines without consulting a doctor, to avoid a consultation fee.

However, the greatest concern for many is to afford emergency health care or surgery, such as a Caesarean section, which now costs over 700 Jordanian dinars, or nearly $1,000 U.S.

As Brussels Conference is underway, MSF urges the international community to guarantee health care funding for Syrian refugees in Jordan who do not reside in refugee camps.

MSF will continue to closely monitor the health of Syrian refugees through its medical programs in the country. MSF's activities include treating noncommunicable diseases in Ramtha and Irbid, a maternity and neonatal hospital in Irbid, a mental health program in Mafraq, primary health care support in Ramtha, and a reconstructive surgery program in Amman.