Friday, March 7, 2014

International Women’s Day – Meet the inspiring Ana Calvo

8 March is International Women’s Day, and this year, to celebrate women and their achievements across the world, we want to introduce to you just one of the many inspiring women that work for UNHCR.

Dr Ana Calvo currently lives in Jordan and works as the Public Health Officer at Zaatari Refugee Camp in Jordan – the second largest refugee camp in the world. We spoke to her about her hard work to help Syrian refugees.

Dr Ana Calvo

What is your background?

I’m Spanish and a medical doctor by training. I have worked in the aftermath of many emergencies, both after natural disasters and when populations have been forced to flee due to conflict. I’ve spent time in many countries such as Mozambique, Colombia, Afghanistan, Myanmar and Kosovo. Basically, any situation where people suddenly have to flee their homes I have been there.

What are you doing in Jordan?

I’ve been working in refugee camps in Jordan to support Syrian refugees since October 2012. A lot of my work takes place in the Zaatari camp and I also reach out to settlements and urban refugees. I’m part of a committed and highly qualified team working in different areas such as registration, shelter, protection, water-sanitation and health services. All of these activities are vital – we assist and protect refugees from the involuntary suffering that they will face as the consequence of war.

Zaatari Refugee Camp in Jordan is now the second largest refugee camp in the world.
What do you do at the Zaatari Refugee Camp?

Health activities are crucial during the arrival point at camp and, as every day we have new people arriving, you can imagine that days are very busy here. There are injured refugees, often unaccompanied young refugees, disabled war amputees, women and kids psychologically traumatised from the terror they have been through in great need of help.

There are also adults with complications from chronic diseases or mental health problems because they could not get the medicine they need inside Syria. After years of war in the country, many children have not had their basic vaccinations and pregnant women are lacking prenatal care. These people have not had healthcare for months, sometimes years, because the war has destroyed the health centers were they used to go.

Is treating patients at arrival your main function in the camp?

As UNHCR public health officer for the camp, I have helped establish the new arrival medical screening, but I also coordinate other health activities to protect refugees’ health once they are settled and have some stability in their new home.

We design health programs that these refugees would have had access to in Syria so everything from vaccinations to prevent the spread of disease, services to those suffering from chronic illness, reproductive and child health, treatment of injuries, as well as mental health services. All this for around 60,000 kids, 7,000 pregnant women, some 4,000 older people and more than 50,000 adults.
How are all these activities funded?

We couldn’t do all we do without donations to UNHCR. Your contributions make it possible for us to continue to save lives and protect these people – they’ve been through so much already and now in a camp they have to face challenges they never would have previously.

During the past year we have been able to do some excellent work in the Zaatari Refugee Camp and there have been no outbreaks of measles, diarrhea or other epidemics. Nor have there been preventable causes of death, like maternal deaths. You are helping us to do this. 

A young Syrian refugee receives medical care in Zaatari Refugee Camp
What does a normal day look like?

As I speak, I feel that maybe all the activities I am mentioning may appear to you as impossible to be developed into a daily routine, but we do it.

In the early morning the UNHCR team working in areas such as health, registration, protection, shelter and camp management share a car that bring us from Amman to the camp. During this journey we share the burden of unsolved problems and the joy of cases successfully assisted. Midway we stop to buy the falafel of the day and have a strong cup of coffee.

When approaching the camp, I make telephone calls to hospital directors, Ministry of Health officers, clinics and the community health leaders to confirm coordination meetings, trainings, follow up for medical cases, community health activities, check on the reporting of diseases that require notification and make sure the technical guidance on communicable diseases have been implemented.

Once in the camp, between 8:30 and 10 am, I have follow up visits with doctors at the health facilities before starting consultations. Between 10 and 1pm we have meetings with partners at the coordination level. In the afternoon I follow activities in the community with 12 health community committees. Of course, in between I have many coffees and share snacks at some clinics. If it is Juma day, the Moroccan hospital invites us to cous-cous which is always a lovely break.

You must need a good night’s sleep after that?

During the first four months in the camp I also did night shifts to assess the needs and to run nutritional or reproductive research. We then used this information to adjust global health programs templates and set up new systems of medical screening. This was done together by national and international staff and with Syrian refugees themselves. I must say these are some of the best memories of my time in Zaatari and made our work productive and rewarding. Looking back, the success of the screening and essential medical programs today is the result of this team effort and I met so many inspiring people.

How do you see the future?

Sometimes I feel sad, realising that I still introduce myself as a humanitarian doctor after so many years. I belong to a group of doctors that have to come to terms, once more, with another war. Despite joining collective efforts during the last 20 years to contribute to war relief and durable solutions, war is still the reason I do what I do. Hopefully, your donations to UNHCR will contribute not only to the humanitarian relief efforts but also to long-term, permanent solutions for the people so drastically affected.

At the Zaatari Refugee Camp in Jordan, your support helps Ana and UNHCR:
•    Deliver around 70 babies a week and provide antenatal care
•    Provide 60,000 health consultations every month to refugees
•    Vaccinate thousands of children under five against polio, measles and other diseases
•    Run tent to tent hygiene campaigns to protect refugees from infectious diseases such as diarrhea and tuberculosis
•    Treat people living with chronic diseases

UNHCR works with partner organisations to ensure Syrian refugee women have access to family planning services, antenatal and postnatal care, and trained midwifes and doctors. As mental health is also a priority for UNHCR, psychological support is also available, particularly for survivors of gender-based violence.

Watch a day in the life of Dr Ana Calvo in Zaatari Refugee Camp on our YouTube channel.


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