As the world marks 10 years of conflict in Syria, the unmet needs of Syrians remain incredibly high. Where civilians live under fear of airstrikes, Hala Systems is sending early warning alerts, allowing civilians to reach safety. Where disinformation threatens the safety and public health well-being of millions, Sealr and Murmurate are countering harmful messaging and decreasing fraud. Where millions face the threat of COVID-19, the White Helmets are providing the essential locally manufactured PPE needed to stay safe from the virus and treat those infected.
From early warnings of incoming airstrikes, to locally manufacturing essential personal protective equipment; countering the harmful spread of misinformation and disinformation, and treating large wounds without burdening the overwhelmed health system; Creating Hope in Conflict: a Humanitarian Grand Challenge supported innovators are working on solutions to meet the needs of civilians caught in Syria’s decade long conflict.
Photo Credit: SAMS USA
A Decade of Conflict
Syrians have endured 10 years of conflict and humanitarian crisis. More than 13 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance, 6.7 million of whom are internally displaced people. As the conflict advances, millions of Syrians continue to live at risk without the necessary assistance they need – all while the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbates existing and ongoing humanitarian needs.
Where aid agencies and organizations struggle to meet the acute needs of the hardest-to-reach civilians, innovative solutions fill the gaps – improving the delivery of humanitarian assistance for millions of Syrians.
Airstrikes have been the largest single cause of civilian death in Syria since 2013, killing more than 80,000 civilians and injuring more than 375,000 since 2013. “Airstrikes continue to take the lives of innocent civilians and humanitarian workers,” says Dave Levin, Hala System’s Co-Founder and COO.
Hala Systems develops advanced solutions for civilian protection, preventing violence before, during and after conflict. Sentry Syria, Hala’s early warning system serving Syrian civilians as a tool offered by the White Helmets, uses the “internet of things,” artificial intelligence, and distributed ledger technologies to identify and predict threats. “Sentry sends an early warning notification to civilians 7-10 minutes ahead of an incoming airstrike. This allows us not only to help save lives, but also document evidence of war crimes, and counter disinformation with credible ground truth in real time,” says Ayman, Co-Founder of Hala Systems and Director of Product. Sentry sends timely warnings to civilians via air raid sirens, visual warning systems in medical facilities, schools, and protection organizations, through social media (Telegram, and previously, through Facebook Messenger), and by FM radio. This life-saving technology will improve – and in many cases save – the lives of people living in conflict.
Photo Credit: Hala Systems
In a time of uncertainty, Sealr restores trust in what we see. Sealr is a mobile app that uses Artificial Intelligence and blockchain technology to verify and secure imagery from conflict-affected areas, protecting against fakes and enhancing remote collaboration. It has the potential to fundamentally change the way projects are monitored in remote areas; decreasing waste and fraud and putting a powerful accountability tool in the hands of affected populations, giving them a more active role in evaluating how their needs are met.
Murmurate tracks how misinformation spreads in communities via social media. Using Computer Vision and Natural Language Processing, Murmurate will map COVID-19 conversations online, identifying misinformation that delivers false and damaging public health statements. These insights drive the production and distribution of COVID-19 related counter messaging that uses an established network of media organizations and channels including SMS, radio, news websites and television reaching a wide audience every month. They will continue to counter harmful misinformation in Syria.
The White Helmets
As the COVID-19 pandemic advances, millions of Syrians – including healthcare professionals and humanitarian workers – continue to live at risk without the necessary personal protective equipment (PPE) needed to safely and adequately respond and treat those infected with the disease.
Working in Northwest Syria, the White Helmets offer the necessary response to the lack of PPE by locally manufacturing personal protective equipment for healthcare workers and citizens – the first organization to manufacture PPE for COVID-19 response in Syria. The country’s protracted conflict and humanitarian crisis have destroyed homes, hospitals and healthcare settings, and have disrupted supply chains leaving over four million people in northwest Syria living in precarious conditions that don’t allow for proper distancing, isolation, or hygiene measures.
Photo Credit: The White Helmets
Syria’s protracted conflict and humanitarian crisis have destroyed homes, hospitals and healthcare settings, leaving millions to live in precarious conditions – including victims of blunt trauma from blasts, shelling or building collapse. A decade of attacks on hospitals and facilities has crippled the country’s healthcare system, leaving many civilians with large open wounds, unable to receive the medical treatment they need.
Properly treating these wounds is a huge medical challenge in low-resource conflict zones. Pragmatic Innovation is building a low-cost, manually powered vacuum pump to help accelerate the treatment of large wounds. An air-tight dressing is placed over the wound and attached to a manually operated suction pump and drainage tube. Vacuum or negative pressure wound therapy significantly facilitates the healing of acute and chronic wounds, while helping to prevent infection. Pragmatic Innovation’s apparatus is designed specifically for use in conflict settings at a fraction of the cost, and is operated manually so electricity is not needed. Patients can continue treatment at home, thus alleviating pressure on the already overburdened healthcare systems and eliminating the need for frequent visits to the clinic through dangerous routes.
Syrian American Medical Society
A decade into the war, the psychological impacts and unmet mental health needs continue to burden youth. To leverage community-based resources the Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS) Foundation is training local women as counsellors to use the Common Elements Treatment Approach (CETA) – an intervention developed by researchers at Johns Hopkins University and the University of Washington – to address common mental health problems. Project staff will then supervise these women as they deliver much-needed mental healthcare to children and adolescents in their communities
“We hope that this work will help Syrian youth to experience a reduction in their mental-health symptoms while also empowering women through professional training. We know that Syrian women, who have already endured so much, will play an important role in alleviating the mental distress of youth in their communities,” says Dana Townsend, a mental health specialist with the SAMS Foundation. Communities across Northwest Syria will receive treatment that can be individualized to their needs, and women from the community trained as counsellors will gain technical skills and some financial security.
Affected populations and the aid workers who serve them don’t have exactly what they need, where and when they need it. Relief supplies and other essential items are too often unavailable or trapped in slow and expensive supply chains. As a result, lives are lost and suffering goes unaddressed.
Field Ready meets humanitarian and reconstruction aid needs by making essential relief and reconstruction items locally. This networked and distributed way of working cuts across sectors and increases local resiliency. Field Ready transforms logistics through technology and design, making useful items to solve local problems. This results in dramatically improved efficiency – making aid better, faster and cheaper.
In Syria, Field Ready is into the second year of its Medical Device Repair program: a multi-tiered project to help restore desperately needed healthcare to the million people now living in the country’s northwest sector. First they surveyed more than 40 area hospitals and healthcare centers to learn what equipment, supplies and infrastructure medical workers needed most to deliver safe, high-quality health services. Then, with medical staff input, team members began repairing, rebuilding and replacing critically needed medical devices using digital design, 3D printers and their own skill.
Since beginning in 2020, team members have repaired 110 medical devices and pieces of equipment in the region, including infant incubators, air compressors, an anesthesia machine, a defibrillator, a ventilator, microscopes, an ICU pump, centrifuges, a nebulizer, sterilizers, an ultrasound machine, an ECG, a monitor and a CT scanner. More than 13,000 people have been helped as a result, healthcare workers reported.
Photo Credit: Field Ready
After 10 years of conflict “it’s obvious the amount of need – most of these hospitals have old or damaged devices, and they don’t have a budget to cover the (device) maintenance and serve the patients,” said Usamah Shamah, Field Ready’s technical lead in Syria. Without the proper functioning medical equipment, patients too often die. “But our engineers used modern technology to make those spare parts very quickly within days, and sometimes immediately, to help those facilities treat patients. That’s like music in my ear – now we can help people.”
During the course of the program, Field Ready plans to add 35 new devices and 200 replacement components to their catalog for open-source use. The team will then work with key partners to manufacture the devices and replacement parts locally, helping to grow long-term sustainability and expand the market for the products.
Al Seeraj For Development & Healthcare (SDH)
The occurrence of difficult-to-control epidemics of infections is a major threat in Syria, which includes hospital-acquired Gram-negative bacterial infections, and community-acquired infections (such as polio, measles, tuberculosis, hepatitis, leishmaniasis). Maintaining clinical diagnostic services is a neglected aspect in war-affected settings, and this is exacerbated by catastrophic shortage of skilled medical staff.
Our Tele-Microbiology in Humanitarian Crises (TmHC) project creates access to quality clinical laboratory services in the North of Syria. The TmHC platform (https://sdh.ngo/tmhc/)connects three workstations located in hard-to-reach areas of Syria with a committee of remote consultants around the world, to give the needed consultations to those who are in need for the services of the TmHC.
This project is providing specialized healthcare services with cost-efficiency and accuracy in the diagnosis of Lab tests’ results. These services are being provided directly to the beneficiaries and to the referred cases from other health facilities where these lab stations are covering hospitals, PHCs, and MMUs in each of the targeted areas.
Maintaining electricity supply for life-saving health services is a continuous challenge in humanitarian settings where energy supplies are disrupted or destroyed. Renewable energy systems and backup electricity for when diesel generators cannot be used are prohibitively expensive and not versatile enough for humanitarian purposes. Without adequately mobile, sustainable, and low-cost options for electricity storage and supply, health facilities risk interruption to life-saving activities.
To improve the availability of back-up electricity and promote the use of renewable energy systems, WATAN proposes to develop a new modular battery array which is low-cost, locally-sourced, mobile and plug-and-play. The innovation will be a casing for a battery module which, uniquely, can be opened and filled with locally sourced, refurbished car batteries. A module can hold four to eight car batteries and interlock with additional modules to increase capacity and will have simple charge and discharge ports.
In remote areas, health systems including hospitals and ambulances rely on diesel fuel for generating electricity and running mobile ambulatory services. However, in conflict zones, fuel is often a scarce resource and there are shortages of qualified human resources as people flee conflict.
The Health Integrated Resilience System (HIRS) aims to strengthen the resilience of the health system in conflict areas by integrating three parallel systems: modular solar photovoltaic systems for powering critical services; an Electric Vehicle mobility (EV) for ambulance and vaccine transport; and remote telemedicine systems. HIRS also aims to create standardized processes for developing and implementing this multi-dimensional resilience system in conflict areas.