Doctors call for urgent action to avert winter catastrophe

from Médecins du Monde
Published on 10 Dec 2012

Call comes ahead of International Human Rights Day, Monday December 10, 2012

Twenty-one months since fighting in Syria began, violence against civilians and health workers continues at an alarming rate, Doctors of the World (Médecins du Monde) said today (Friday, December 7). More than a million Syrians are internally displaced and hundreds of thousands more have fled to neighbouring countries, where they live in dire conditions.

“Our volunteer medics on the frontline warn of a looming mental health crisis,” explains Leigh Daynes, Executive Director of Doctors of the World UK. “Those forced to flee by fighting into Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan are deeply traumatised by the violence they have experienced. Indiscriminate attacks on civilians, torture and rape in Syria are reportedly widespread. It will take time for people's emotional health to heal so we must act now.”

The global health charity has warned that the crisis will worsen with the onset of winter as those living in refugee camps are not yet equipped to deal with plummeting temperatures and worsening conditions.

In Syria, clashes between insurgents and government forces have intensified; bombings continue relentlessly, taking a heavy toll on civilians, both physically and mentally.

“I had no political affiliation, nor did my brother,” explains Omar. “I just participated in protests at the beginning of the revolution.” Stripped and beaten by several men at the same time at the airport in Hama, Omar and his brother were electrocuted and drowned, whipped with metal cables and drugged. He was only released after 4 days when his family paid a £12,000 ransom. His brother died from the ordeal.

The violence is not restricted to civilians; aid and medical workers also regularly targeted. Leila, 21, is a volunteer rescuer from Aleppo who has witnessed attacks against healthcare facilities and medical personnel.

“I was working in the Dar al Shifa hospital which was bombed a week ago,” she says. “The regime’s forces were using ambulances to attack the field hospitals. Three nurses were arrested because they were carrying first aid kits; their partly burned bodies were returned to their families seven days later.” Khaled, a 20 year-old student from Homs was caught up in shelling on his way to university lectures and received shrapnel fragments to his head. “I lost consciousness,” he explains “and I did not know a car had stopped to pick me up.” Patched up with a bandage to his head, Khaled was driven 8 hours to Idlib on the Turkish border where he spent 25 days in intensive care. Although now stable he still needs an operation to fully close his skull. Concern has been raised ahead of International Human Rights Day on December 10. “Those who are not, or no longer, fighting have a right to be protected and assisted under international humanitarian law,” Mr Daynes explained. “All the parties to the fighting must ensure civilians are spared. They must ensure that health workers can go about their work unhindered and facilitate access to the wounded and to civilians. There are no circumstances in which it is permissible to withhold healthcare or to attack health workers or health centres.” “It is our responsibility to remind government forces just as much as the armed groups in Syria that not everything is permitted,” added Dr. Thierry Brigaud, President of Doctors of the World France. “No, you cannot bomb hospitals and neighbourhoods with impunity. You cannot finish off the wounded or execute the doctors and staff that seek to help them.” To help the wounded and displaced, in October Doctors of the World opened a primary healthcare centre in northern Syria. The centre receives some one hundred patients each day, mostly women and children. With winter approaching, the organisation is distributing blankets, soap, plastic sheeting and hygiene kits. “The main health complaints our physicians encounter relate to the living conditions of the displaced,” says Joël Weiler, general coordinator of Doctors of the World. “They have often left behind everything they owned, which makes them even more vulnerable.” In Jordan, the charity is also helping people in the town of Ramtha, in King Abdullah Park and in the camp in Zaatari, which now has more than 30,000 Syrian refugees. Here, Syrian and Jordanian psychiatrists, psychologists and social workers have been specially trained by Doctors of the World to treat post-traumatic stress cases and spot potential mental health issues, which are feared to be widespread.

In Lebanon, where more than 100,000 Syrians have fled, Doctors of the World supports and supplies drugs to two health facilities in the Bekaa Valley.

The British Government through the Department for International Development (DFID) is supporting the organisation’s work in Lebanon and Jordan.

Founded by French doctors in 1980, Doctors of the World now runs over 300 projects in 77 countries, providing crisis health care and longer term health development projects. It advocates for every person’s right to health. Doctors of the World has no religious or political affiliation.

To support our life saving work please call 020 7515 7534 or go to:


For more information:

London: Nick Harvey / Leigh Daynes: 020 7515 7534 / 07887 492 289.

Paris: Agnes Varraine-Leca / Emmanuelle Hau / Nolwenn Roussier : +33 (0) 1 44 92 14 31 / 14 32 / 13 81, +33 (0) 6 09 17 35 59