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Press Centre (9/2014)

UNICEF helps children with celiac disease in camps

Awad, 10, suffers from celiac disease. He and his family have been living in the Sarıçam Camp in Adana for a year and a half. ©UNICEF/Turkey-2014/Yurtsever
ADANA, Turkey, 20 September 2014 – After tackling the immense hardships of leaving your home, your friends and family and your country torn apart by war, it’s easy to overlook debilitating diseases that don’t stop just because you’re on the move. Grabbing food where you can becomes a much bigger problem for Syrians struggling with nutritional diseases, especially one that prevents some from eating a cheap staple—bread.

Celiac is an autoimmune disorder where the ingestion of the gluten protein causes damage to the small intestine. Typical symptoms of the disease include vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal distension, anorexia, failure to gain weight and the slowing down of growth in young children; or at later ages with various symptoms like anemia, short stature, bone weakness and unexplained liver disease.

 And as gluten is found in grains such as wheat, barley, rye and suspected in oats, finding food that doesn’t make kids sick is a daunting task for parents.

It’s something being closely watched in Turkey’s refugee camps where kids are screened for it during health controls, and UNICEF’s counseling service help these children be a bit more optimistic.

Avad gets better now he’s diagnosed and gluten-free

Avad Hemid, 10, is one of the children with celiac disease. Avad, from Idlib, has been living in the Sarıçam Camp in Adana with his family for a year and a half. When you see him, it is almost impossible to distinguish him from the healthy children. Avad goes to school just like his peers and have just entered the fifth grade.

Standing in front of the tent they now call home, Avad’s mother says her son had some health problems in Syria but was diagnosed with the celiac disease during health screenings when they arrived at Adana Camp.

“His treatment started almost five months ago,” she said. “We were given special foods so now I can prepare his meals using them and he can have a normal life, which we are so grateful for.”
Avad’s favorite foods are eggs and pasta. He also likes chicken, vegetables and fruits. On his way back from school the shy youngster says he likes maths the most, but has not made any decisions yet about what profession he would like to choose for his future. After all, he says, he has years ahead of him to think about it.
Gulfran is happy to be healthy
14-year-old Gufran, a 9th grade student, is just as shy as Avad, but has made up her mind about her future. She wants to be a doctor.
 “We learned about her illness two years before the war,” her father says from inside their tent. The family moved to Adana from Damascus one year ago. “We started the treatment there, so she had a report and special foods. Soon after we came to Turkey, we were able to start the treatment again.”

The packages prepared for children with the celiac disease include two 1 kg packages of gluten-free flour, 500 grams of gluten-free pasta and a 250 gram package of noodles and crackers. The families say this is enough for almost 20 days.
Gulfren’s father said, “If it weren’t for AFAD and UNICEF, we would be scattered. A professor doctor examines my daughter for free regularly. When we first came here, my daughter was too thin. Now she is quite healthy. However, we need some more of these foods.”

Although Gufran does not like these gluten-free foods very much, she knows that this is necessary for her health… She adds she likes eating rice.

Story and photos by Ayberk Yurtsever
UNICEF Turkey Country Office, Yukarı Dikmen Mah. Alexsander Dubçek Cd. 7/106, 06450 Çankaya/Ankara. Telephone: +90 312 454 1000 Fax: +90 312 496 1461 E-mail: ankara@unicef.org