On World Humanitarian Day: Interview with a Syrian doctor


Dr Ghassan Sabri Bako is a Syrian doctor now living in Turkey.

Dr Ghassan Sabri Bako is a Syrian doctor who has been practising medicine for more than 36 years. He moved to Turkey 2 years ago to escape the conflict in his country and now lives in south-eastern Turkey, where he is helping fellow refugees at a registered international nongovernmental organization health facility. Earlier this month, he took part in adaptation training for Syrian doctors, organized and conducted by the WHO Office in Gaziantep and supported financially by the European Commission's Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection Department (ECHO) and the United Nations Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF).

This 1-week adaptation course on primary health care was established to familiarize Syrian medical doctors with Turkish health services and practices. The course provides information on vaccination schedules and the availability of medicines, for example.

In figures: Health services for Syrian refugees in Turkey

  • 1.9 million Syrian refugees are currently living in Turkey, making Turkey the host to the largest number of refugees in the world. 
  • This represents an increase of approximately 1 million refugees since June 2014.
  • 85% of refugees live in the community and the remaining 15% in camps.
  • The Government of Turkey is committed to ensuring that refugees have free access to public health services and health care.
  • Between January and June 2015, the health services provided to refugees included:  6 million consultations, 240 000 inpatient stays, 200 000 surgical operations and 2 million children vaccinated against polio during campaigns.
  • Key issues to be addressed include the language barrier for refugees who access services; the high prevalence of noncommunicable diseases; increased numbers of cases of communicable disease, including vaccine-preventable diseases, because of limited access to routine immunization programmes; and limited availability of mental health services.

WHO response in Turkey

WHO established a field presence in Gaziantep, in southeast Turkey, in October 2013, and then scaled up its presence, capacity and activities. The office focuses on critical functions within the WHO Emergency Response Framework: health coordination, information management, provision of technical expertise and core services. WHO is the health-sector leader for national and international health partners working in southern Turkey and northern Syria.

WHO has so far delivered 116 health kits to Turkey, to meet the primary health care needs of 170 000 people for 3 months and emergency treatment of 1300 cases of injury and 4000 operations. The provision of equipment and drugs and the organization of training to enable Syrian medical professionals to integrate the Turkish health system are two examples of how WHO works to ensure that Syrian refugees in Turkey have continuous access to equitable, life-saving health services. 

Other activities include technical assistance for outbreak response and immunization campaigns, psychological support to refugees and development and dissemination of information materials. 

The secret to a happy life

"When I was a child" said Dr Bako, "I wanted very much to become a doctor." He graduated from the University of Aleppo in 1977. "Studying medicine, a doctor first of all learns the principles of humanity, how to be a real human. The secret to a happy life, we were told at medical school, is to do good for others.

"The main challenges for Syrian patients are health problems, social problems, economic problems. To help, we must improve their lives by improving their economic and health situations. An important aspect of my work as a doctor is helping people psychologically to be strong enough to face their problems."

He adds, "When you alleviate the pain of a patient, when you help him or her to find a cure and when you take away their illness, you feel great happiness. I have experienced this great feeling and am still lucky to have this feeling."

On World Humanitarian Day 

"I feel great pain when I see another man, a woman or a child suffering. I do not know them, they are not family, not a neighbour, but I feel this pain. In many parts of the world, there are disasters and wars. Doctors work in places affected by disaster, under difficult conditions, trying to help people in need. They are super-humans," concludes Dr Ghassan Sabri Bako.

World Humanitarian Day is marked each year on 19 August to recognize people who face danger and adversity in order to help others and to celebrate the spirit that inspires humanitarian work around the globe. The United Nations General Assembly designated the day to coincide with the anniversary of the 2003 bombing of the United Nations headquarters in Baghdad, Iraq.

This year, the United Nations and its humanitarian partners are encouraging people across the world to become active messengers of humanity. For World Humanitarian Day, WHO thanks health care workers for their dedication to public health at #ThanksHealthHero.