Coronavirus brings added complications to vulnerable refugees in Jordan

With work put on hold due to precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19, Abdel-Rahman’s family are struggling to pay the costs of his medical needs.

The whirring of Abdelrahman’s oxygen generator is a constant feature in the background of the lives of his family. Born after just 22 weeks, Abdelrahman spent the first three months of his life in intensive care and although he is now a chatty and playful two-year-old, he is still living with the effects of coming into this world early.

“His lungs haven’t developed as they should have,” his father Bassem explains.

“which means he has to be hooked up to oxygen for 24 hours a day. Even if he doesn’t have oxygen for 10 minutes, I dread to imagine what would happen.”

Doctors explain that the solution is a double lung transplant, but Abdelrahman will have to wait until he is four years old so that his body is strong enough to bear the operation.  UNHCR was able to cover some of the medical costs when Abdelrahman was born, but due to lack of funding for health cannot pay for everything.

But there is another issue. The type of transplant he needs is not currently available in Jordan, and as Syrian refugees, the family have little choice about traveling elsewhere to seek treatment.

“If it was a kidney, liver, or even a heart transplant then it could be done in Jordan,” Bassem says, “but for the time being we have to wait.”

But waiting comes at a cost. Based estimated that it costs over 200 dinar every month to cover Abdelrahman’s basic medical needs. Over 100 dinar for the electricity for the oxygen generator, around 50 dinar for basic medicine, 30 dinar every time they go to the specialist doctor – around once a week- not to add the cost of the high-nutrient food that Abdelrahman needs to grow properly; he currently only weighs 10 kilograms.

“I have neglected everything else. I am not even able to think about getting basic food for the family. I am only able to think about Abdelrahman’s treatment,” Bassem adds.

As a painter and decorator finding daily work where he can, Bassem explains he normally earns about 15 dinar a day. If he works every day in a month then they have enough, but in recent months it has been difficult to find even 10 days’ work.

“And now with coronavirus, everything has stopped.”

With strict curfews in place in Jordan to prevent the spread of coronavirus, the economic impact of the virus has hit refugees hard and especially for daily workers like Bassem who relied on the informal economy, work has dried up and they have no means to support their families.

Abdel-Rahman,2, and his older brother Omar,4, play at home in Amman, Jordan.

Bassem explains how only last week they were forced to go and live with a neighbor as they didn’t have enough money to pay the electricity bill and it got cut off. Thanks to an anonymous donation though, they are now back at home, but has affirmed their vulnerability especially as electricity access is a matter of life or death for Abdelrahman.

The family is also worried about what would happen if coronavirus came closer to home “even if someone in this apartment block got infected, it would be devastating. He is a small child, with weak lungs, he would have no chance.”

This Ramadan, UNHCR is appealing for $27million to help refugees like Bassem and his family cope with the impact of coronavirus in Jordan.

“In previous years we could buy some foodstuffs in preparation for the month of Ramadan but now with these conditions, we do not know what food we have for today,” sighs Bassem.

Written by
Lilly Carlisle
Communications Officer
Lilly Carlisle
UN entities involved in this initiative
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees