CHOP program helping Afghan refugee children now preparing for possibility of Ukrainian refugees

"We're ready here to take care of whoever comes in whatever way," said Dr. Sage Myers.

TaRhonda Thomas Image
Friday, March 4, 2022
CHOP program prepares for possibility of Ukrainian refugees
"The things that these families went through are in many ways unbelievable in our minds," said Dr. Sage Myers.

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- Dr. Sage Myers has a vivid memory of the moments when Afghan refugees began arriving in Philadelphia. The city was one of only two American cities where refugees were being flown in during the evacuation of U.S. troops from Afghanistan.

"The things that these families went through are in many ways unbelievable in our minds," said Myers who is the medical director of emergency preparedness at CHOP.

When many of them arrived at the airport, they saw Myers.

"Being at the airport was both overwhelming and uplifting-it was incredible to see the resilience that these families had," said Myers. "Being there as those first faces they got to see on American soil was really incredible."

Myers and Dr. Meera Siddharth are part of a team at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia focused on refugees.

"We'll get lab work. We'll make sure they're medically stable," said Siddharth, who is a primary care pediatrician at CHOP.

But for so many children who arrive, the need goes beyond basic medical care. A number of the children have lived their entire lives with medical or genetic conditions for which they've been told there were no options for care.

"We've seen refugees who didn't have access to adequate medical care (in their home countries)," said Siddharth. "We have seen many children who had unknown conditions that are now being treated."

It's the type of progress that the CHOP Refugee Health Program has seen over the past 11 years.

They now anticipate a new challenge from the war in Ukraine.

"I suspect that once things continue to evolve there that we will start to see Ukrainian refugees," said Siddharth.

"We're ready here to take care of whoever comes in whatever way," said Myers.

The program has already taken care of a number of Ukrainian refugees over the years. They anticipate applying the lessons they learned from the fast influx of Afghan refugees should Philadelphia become a safe haven once again.

"I wouldn't say every city has a program the way we do," said Siddharth.

"There may have been one or two others," said Myers, "but not that had this combination of being close the airport and close to the safe haven."

CHOP isn't the only hospital in our area with a refugee health program. There are several others, and they work with resettlement organizations to form a collaborative. The next time that collaborative meets, they'll be discussing what to do to help refugees who could come from Ukraine.

Siddharth says about 650 Afghan refugees have been permanently resettled in Philadelphia. CHOP's refugee health program and others like it have provided the type of care that has helped the smallest refugees thrive in their new country.

"You can see the difference," she said, "and that is very gratifying."