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Medical students at a refugee camp: We don’t judge, we help

Students sent to help by the Brno Diocesan Charity and Masaryk University are gradually returning from a refugee camp in Athens.

We don’t try to judge the refugee crisis in any way. As doctors, we help everyone without any distinction, says student Martina Žižlavská, first on the left in the photo.

Students of the Faculty of Medicine at Masaryk University who have been treating refugees at an Athens refugee camp are beginning to come back from Greece. Of a total five four-member teams to be sent by the Brno Diocesan Charity together with material aid, which take turns helping in the camp for one or two weeks, three have already come back. The charity entered into a Memorandum of Cooperation with Masaryk University in June and the student aid in Athens is their first joint action.

The students worked in the Hellinikon Olympic complex, where refugees stay in abandoned airport halls or tents. The camp currently hosts about 1,300 to 1,500 refugees.

For security reasons, refugee camps are divided into sections based on nationality, and the students from the first group worked in the Afghan section. Their working conditions were very primitive.

“The makeshift hospital had almost no equipment – we could not even take blood samples and carry out other necessary tests. We also had to do without certain types of medicine, such as eye drops or ointments and creams for skin complaints,” says Martina Žižlavská, a 23-year-old student, who was part of the first team.

Talking through an interpreter
“Communicating with the patients was a huge problem. Very few spoke any English and it would have been impossible to work without a translator,” says Dominik Šašinka, a paramedic student and another member of the team.

 This was especially a problem when it was necessary for a female patient to disrobe. As they would only let female physicians examine them, all men – including the interpreter – had to leave.

 The students had to deal with a wide range of conditions from fevers, bronchitis, pneumonia, and smallpox to heat rash and other skin disorders.

We don’t try to judge the refugee crisis in any way. As doctors, we help everyone without any distinction, says student Martina Žižlavská, first on the left in the photo.

“Unfortunately, no dental care was available, so we kept seeing people in severe pain with extensive tooth decay and open root canals,” Žižlavská explains. “You could tell immediately that the patient was suffering from dental problems, but the only help we could offer was pain medication. Even the Greeks themselves struggle with dental care, as it is very expensive.”

Each team spends two weeks at the camp, with the exception of the first, which returned after a week. Students work in five-hour daily shifts, taking turns with local physicians, and they see about thirty patients every day.

“The medical students are very active. Even though they are not yet doctors themselves, their treatment is comparable to the treatment provided by their supervising physicians,” says charity spokesperson Diana Tuyet-Lan Kosinová in praise of the students.

Priceless experience
There were over sixty applicants for the volunteer experience in the refugee camp, with students showing great interest. “It is a great experience, albeit a very stressful and challenging one, as you see a lot of suffering here at the camp. We don’t try to judge the refugee crisis in any way. As doctors, we help everyone without any distinction,” says Žižlavská.

The Balkan route was shut down five months ago and around 100,000 people were left stranded in Greece. Their future is now uncertain. “Pretending that this is not our problem is not a solution. This is a shared pan-European responsibility,” says Oldřich Haičman, the director of the Brno Diocesan Charity. “To send aid to a country that is still coping with an economic crisis while also dealing with the peak of a wave of refugees, seems a worthwhile undertaking to us.” Haičman goes on to add: 

“All funding for these aid efforts comes from our donors and, in exceptional cases, also from local government authorities such as the South Moravian Regional Authority. Our efforts will continue as long as we have funding for them. Therefore, the solidarity of our donors is key and we would be very grateful for any contributions to our humanitarian aid account 4211020050/6800.”

It is also possible to contribute to the grants that help pay at least part of the voluntary humanitarian activities of the students through the university portal.