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Surgeons in Lebanon offer hope to wounded Syrian refugees

TRIPOLI, Lebanon (Reuters) - Six operations have failed to cure the constant pain that Ismael Moustafa suffers since he was wounded in an airstrike on his village in Syria three years ago.

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The 28-year-old former construction worker hobbled on crutches after the shrapnel tore through his right hip and leg, with painkillers offering no relief.

A recurring infection made further operations too complex for some surgeons, as well as out of reach for him financially, until the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Lebanon accepted the challenge of getting him walking again.

“It has been a long and hard journey to get here, and the pain in my leg never goes away. There is always pain, I cannot walk,” Moustafa said, lying on a hospital bed awaiting surgery to remove an infected section of bone in his leg.

The ICRC, which is providing his expensive operation, says it has treated some 350 war-wounded patients since 2014 at its Weapon Traumatology Training Centre on the second floor of the Dar Al Shifaa hospital in Tripoli, northern Lebanon.

A similar program has cared for around 750 patients, including from Yemen, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, at the Rafik Hariri University Hospital in Beirut.

“The cases that we see here, we don’t see anywhere else. They are war wounds and they are infected and have a lot of complications, and they have been previously operated on many times,” said Fouad Issa El Khoury, a trainee doctor at the center.

Moustafa’s surgery, which doctors said later was a success, cost at least $50,000, El Khoury said. The ICRC also covered the bill for physical rehabilitation and psychotherapy at the nearby Al Zahraa hospital.

For many Syrians in Lebanon the cost of even routine healthcare is simply beyond their means. Many are on a waiting list of one month for treatment at the ICRC.

Eight-year-old Shahed Khalil has had 10 operations, three of them in Al Shifaa, to repair her right thigh and enable her to walk again after she was wounded in an airstrike in Syria while on her way to school two years ago.

On a recent check-up it was discovered that the metal plate fitted in her leg had broken and she would require more surgery, putting her back on the wait list.

But Khalil and Moustafa are among the fortunate ones to receive care. A report by the Syrian Center for Policy Research said 1.9 million Syrians had been wounded in the first five years of a war that began in 2011.

“Even if war stops tomorrow, you will have the necessity of this service for years, if not decades, because the number of wounded and people needing support is very high,” said Fabrizio Carboni, head of the ICRC delegation in Lebanon.

Editing by Patrick Johnston and Mark Trevelyan