In Syria, a seven-month-old baby lies on an examining table while an adult hand lifts up his leg to show scars from a bullet wound

Fatma’s seven-month-old grandson was shot in the leg © SARC/Tareq Mnadili

The last thing Fatma expected was for her seven-month-old grandson to be shot in the leg while lying in his bed.

And yet, such is the indiscriminate brutality of Syria’s conflict, Fatma watched this improbable nightmare unfold before her eyes.

“My daughter-in-law had laid the baby on the bed at home and the bullet just came through the window,” Fatma said.

“When we saw what had happened to him we were so angry, we cried.

“We just fled the situation, it was very bad, there was shooting and bombing.”

Free service is a lifeline
Fatma, a woman from Syria, stands next to her daughter-in-law who holds her baby son, who has a big smile on his face

Fatma, her daughter-in-law and grandson © Tareq Mnadili/SARC

Fatma and her family are being treated at a health clinic run by our colleagues at the Syrian Arab Red Crescent. Based in Jaramana, outside Damascus, the medical facility treats 400 patients every day.

From the baby’s cheeky grin, it’s clear he is recovering.

But Fatma herself also has health problems – diabetes, high blood pressure and chest pain due to asthma.

Most of the clinic’s patients are people like Fatma who fled their homes in other parts of Syria.

Before the crisis, Jaramana was home to around half a million people. Now two million people live there, having fled violence.

In the flight to safety, Fatma grabbed her belongings in a hurry. All the family’s medicines got left behind, a common problem for people running for their lives.

Dr Rami, who runs the clinic, explained that in addition to medical care, prescribing and providing essential drugs is a big part of their work.

“Each month there are still new arrivals to this area, because it is safe. So we receive more and more patients,” Dr Rami said.

“We have a pharmacy so people can immediately get the medicines they have been prescribed.

“Free medicines are important as most of the people we see can’t afford to buy their own supplies.

“There is no point in giving someone a prescription if they cannot get the medicines, so we offer this service too.”

This service is a lifeline for Fatma.

“Without this clinic I don’t know what I’d do,” she said.

Leaving your life’s work behind
Seventy-seven-year-old Mohammed Musa, wearing a cap and jacket, and his wife Reba, who wears a blue headscarf, stand next to each other facing the camera in a health clinic in Syria

Mohammed and Reba Musa © Penny Sims/IFRC

The Red Crescent runs a similar health facility in Homs.

Like the Jaramana clinic, most of its patients are people who fled their homes in other areas.

Retired history teacher Mohammed Musa, age 77, is among them.

Before the crisis, Mohammed and his wife lived in the Old City of Homs in a house filled with books.

“I had a thousand books before the crisis. I’d been buying them since my youth, all my money went on books,” said Mohammed, whose passion was Islamic history.

“And I had been writing a book of my own. Now it is all destroyed. And this destroyed me, because I lost my book. I lost every paper I ever wrote.”

Mohammed now needs seven sets of medication – for his heart, stomach, blood and prostate – and the clinic is the only place he can get them.

‘People come from miles around’
A close-up photograph of Dr Shamal who looks at the camera. Children's drawings decorate the wall behind him in his clinic in Syria.

Dr Shamal © Penny Sims/IFRC

Mohammed remembers teaching Dr Shamal, the clinic’s director.

“We treat anyone who comes through our doors,” Dr Shamal said.

“We see people who have chronic diseases that they used to manage, but now they struggle to get medicines. They don’t have the money to pay any more.

“We now run two internal disease clinics and these are the busiest.

“They are always full. We could open a third clinic and fill it with people. We need more capacity. Medicine is the main need. People come from miles around for their medicines.”

Mohammed’s wife Reba has also felt the impact of their situation on her physical and mental health.

She said: “My health is worse since we were displaced. But I also feel the psychological effect. I just want to cry. It is a disaster. My children are all out of the country.

“But speaking about these things is also a relief.”