Syrian man can smile again thanks to treatment

A Syrian man in his early 20s was injured during the civil war in his country when a bomb hit his neighbourhood. Shrapnel had struck his neck and made him a quadriplegic.

“I was asked to see this patient because he ‘always looks so down and never smiles,’ ” wrote Dr. Saleem Al-Nuaimi in a report to HPIC. The psychiatric resident from Edmonton travelled in June to Turkey and Syria with the group Canadian Relief for Syria to provide psychiatric care and treatment to refugees.  “I assessed him and it was quite clear that he suffered from major depression.”

Dr. Al-Nuaimi had applied to HPIC for a Special Physician Request package of medicines he would need for his medical mission. Pharmascience and Teva provided over $6,000 worth of psychiatric medicines to Dr. Al-Nuaimi.

The young man was given an antidepressant donated to HPIC by Pharmascience. “It usually takes weeks to see the full benefit of antidepressants, but he had immediate benefits with improved sleep. A few days later his appetite had improved. Most importantly, he was able to smile again,” recalled the doctor.

In total, Dr. Al-Naimi was able to treat 30 Syrians suffering from various mental health problems.

“Syrian refugees are at high risk of mental illness due to traumatic experiences and adjustment difficulties. Many refugees also have suffered traumatic disability,” according to Dr. Al-Nuaimi, who added that not enough is being done to address the enormous mental health burden facing these refugees.

The Special Physician Request medicines helped raised awareness about mental health issues in the community and in training efforts. “With access to new psychotropic medications,” Dr. Al-Nuaimi wrote in his report to HPIC, “the community benefits from increased awareness about mental disorders in general, reducing stigma and encouraging people with mental illness to access mental health services and obtain treatment. We are working with local health professionals to enhance their recognition of mental disorders as well.”

Dr. Al-Nuaimi is continuing to serve Syrian refugees through providing consultation via Skype from his home in Edmonton.

Interviewed by CBC when he returned to Canada, Dr. Al-Nuaimi told CBC that he understands his impact may not seem significant, particularly while the death toll continues to rise in Syria, but says that “no matter how small the difference is, it’s still a difference.”

CBC story can be found here: