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Displaced doctor hopes to rebuild Syria's health care system in the future

Scholar Mohammad Darwish studies large-scale crises and humanitarian assistance
Posted January 23, 2018

Mohammad Darwish works with Paul Spiegel, director of the Center for Humanitarian Health.

Dr. Mohammad Dariwsh worked for the Palestine Red Crescent Society in Syria and Lebanon before attending the Bloomberg School of Public Health. Dr. Mohammad Dariwsh worked for the Palestine Red Crescent Society in Syria and Lebanon before attending the Bloomberg School of Public Health.

The experience of being personally displaced due to armed conflict opened the eyes of Mohammad Darwish, MD, to the intricacies of responding to large-scale humanitarian crises.

"Addressing only the medical aspect of the problem – as what a physician like me would only be able to do – does not make as big of a difference in people’s suffering as I wish for," says Darwish, who received his medical degree from Damascus University in 2015.

"That's because with large-scale disasters come many challenges: the struggle to secure sufficient nutrition and appropriate hygiene, to contain and prevent communicable disease outbreaks, and to be able to efficiently deal with victims of human trafficking, sexual violence, and other human rights violations that accompany these disasters," according to Darwish, who is one of two Syrian scholarship recipients enrolled in an intensive, 11-month MPH program at the Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Along with an internally displaced population of six million Syrians, five million refugees have left the country since the conflict began there in 2011. Prior to coming to America, Darwish was providing first-responder training through the Palestine Red Crescent Society in support of internally displaced people and refugees in Lebanon.

"The Center for Humanitarian Health worked to create these two refugee scholarships, together with the Bloomberg School of Public Health, in order to allow refugees, and in this case Syrian refugees, to come to further develop their skills, but also more importantly for them, hopefully, to return home and to benefit the people of Syria," says Paul Spiegel, MD, MPH ’96, who directs the center.

The university also benefits from having such diverse experiences and perspectives among the students, Spiegel says. He adds that the scholarship, which is supported through the Dean's Strategic Discretionary Fund, will continue next year and will be open to refugees from Syria, South Sudan, Somalia, and Afghanistan.

"I believe that by pursuing a master's of public health, I can be as beneficial to my fellow humans as I dream to be," says Darwish, who is currently researching the obstacles facing healthcare workers in Syria, like physical dangers and a lack of supplies, and investigating how refugees are accessing health care.

Darwish says he is not optimistic about fast solutions to the Syrian crisis, but he hopes one day to use his expanded skills and training to rebuild the country's health care and ethical systems.

"I'm very grateful because John Hopkins is supporting Syria by this scholarship, whereas most of the world turned a blind eye for the Syrian people's tragedy," says Darwish. “My heroes are those doctors still working in Syria,” he says, adding that this includes his parents who are also both physicians.

To learn more about supporting scholarships or to make a gift, please contact Heath Elliott, associate dean for external affairs.