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Local doctor returns to Syria amidst civil wars
PENSACOLA -- The bloody civil war in Syria is taking a toll on the people there. Four million Syrians are in refugee camps out of the country, and another two million are displaced within its borders. Although it's happening thousands of miles away, for one Pensacola doctor, the war hits close to home. The ophthalmologist is from Syria and he has made it his mission to help people there survive.
When Dr. Rifai is home here in Pensacola practicing seeing patients is a lot different because of the equipment. When he travels to Syria it gets a lot more difficult. Doctor Aref Rifai was born in Syria...He's lived in America for the past 25-years. He's an ophthalmologist and retina specialist at the Center for Sight when he heard his country was in civil war. He gathered supplies and made the long journey home.
"There is no electricity, there is no running water, a lot of the people are having a hard time finding the basic necessities like bread and food. If you do have a chronic disease like diabetes, asthma, or you require dialysis unfortunately tough luck,” Rifai said.
He's from the second largest city in Syria population of nearly two million. Before the war there were nearly 2,000 physicians, now there are less than 100. Which has made his travels dangerous, he has partnered with the Syrian American Society for help. Doctors who help soldiers are a target, so supporters help him safely across the Syrian border and guide him to field hospitals.
"They will probably die for you if it needs that,” Rifai said.
Most of the hospitals have been bombed...So other building have been turned into hospitals. And it's sometimes hard to get all the supplies needed for surgery.
Rifai said, "There will always be things you don't anticipate for example the electricity. We work on a generator and sometimes all of a sudden you're doing surgery and the electricity shuts down and they have to go out and recheck the generator."
Dr. Rifai plans to return to Syria in September.