The forgotten Dr. Abdul Nasser Kaadan, IAS Member displaced by the Syrian conflict

Dr. Abdul Nasser Kaadan, is a physician from Aleppo who has been a member of the International AIDS Society (IAS) since 2013. Last year, Abdul was forced to flee his country and seek refuge in Turkey. In the face of this emergency humanitarian crisis, the IAS is working with Abdul to ensure the voice of the Syrian people working on the frontlines of HIV is heard. This is his story…

I was living near Aleppo University, which is still under the government’s control. I left in early 2015 when the situation became very dangerous. There were bombings every day and attacks on civilians. One of my colleagues at Aleppo University was attacked by a bomb while he was in his car with his son - both of them died. Another colleague was kidnaped by the forces of the opposition and killed after a week. This is what my family and I faced every day.

I left Aleppo on a microbus with my wife to the south of Turkey. Usually, this journey takes about one hour by bus (about 80 KMP) to the border, but it took us around twelve hours.

The driver had to take the safest route, because of the threat of kidnappings and bombings that we faced.

We passed more than thirty check points and arrived fifteen minutes after the border closed, so we had to stay in a small building prepared especially for such cases. We were with about 300 people, many of them children. It was freezing and the conditions were very poor in this crowded small place, and I developed severe influenza.

The next morning, we crossed the border and were directly transported to a Turkish city. My wife and I were two of the lucky ones.

The situation of Syrians living with HIV/AIDS, inside and outside the country, is desperate. There is a severe lack of health supplies, such as drugs, vaccines, laboratory and diagnostic materials, and surgical instruments in the region. This has an obvious impact on access to treatment for HIV and other infectious diseases.

Today, it is estimated that there are about 2.5 million Syrian refugees in Turkey, some of them live in refugee camps, while others are scattered in different Turkish cities. Many were diagnosed with HIV/AIDS in Syria and were receiving treatment before the war. Now the situation has changed. Many are afraid to be stigmatized if they declare their status as HIV-positive.

The strain of the war in Syria and surge of refugees in its bordering countries makes it difficult to accurately report on the scale of the HIV epidemic in the region, let alone the actual number of people receiving treatment. However, the conditions in refugee camps in Turkey are much better than in neighbouring countries because the Turkish government provides free health services to all Syrian refugees in Turkey. It is believed that the impact of HIV/AIDS among Syrian refugees is far worse in Lebanon and Jordan, which have fewer refugees with around 1.2 million and 650 thousand respectively.

Many Syrians living with HIV/AIDS are trapped in war-torn areas without access to services.

The situation is extremely difficult to an extent that nearly nobody is even thinking about HIV/AIDS, especially as there is a shortage of provisions such as food, clean water, and education for children. As a result, many Syrians living with HIV/AIDS are trapped in war-torn areas without access to services.

Action is required now as this crisis will continue for no less than ten years, according to the most optimistic Syrians. Syria has become the biggest humanitarian crisis since World War II and requires governments worldwide to help those forgotten in this dreadful war. We need trained health professionals to provide HIV/AIDS prevention, transmission and treatment services in refugee camps in Syria’s neighbouring countries. This is the only way we can provide an accurate situation-and-response assessment of HIV.

Please stand with me and share my story to bring attention to the people of Syria.

Dr. Abdul Nasser Kaadan is currently living in Turkey, and working as a university lecturer.

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Please note that parts of this interview with Dr. Abdul Nasser Kaadan have been edited or condensed for clarity.