Following an airstrike this morning in the north of Idlib governorate, Syria, 11 casualties were received at a facility co-managed by international medical humanitarian organisation Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF). One person was pronounced dead on arrival. Local media outlets have reported more than 75 deaths and 135 casualties so far.
“When the airstrike happened, the team in our co-managed hospital nearby activated the mass casualty plan,” says Cristian Reynders, MSF project coordinator for northwest Syria. “Soon after, we started receiving critically injured patients in need of surgery. Two patients had badly damaged limbs that had to be amputated and the others needed treatment.”
Hours after the incident, hospitals in Idlib were still receiving casualties.
In addition to the response at its co-managed hospital, MSF donated surgical supplies with capacity for 50 surgeries to another health facility that had received 90 injured people.
Airstrikes reaching new areas
“Airstrikes in northwest Syria were still taking place close to the frontlines since the latest ceasefire was signed in March 2020”, explains Reynders. “But the fact that they have been increasing in frequency in the past weeks and are now reaching what are considered safe areas of Idlib governorate is worrying.”
“Hospitals in this specific area of Idlib governorate are not used to receiving people wounded by airstrikes,” adds Reynders. “They are in a zone that is considered relatively safe by the people living there. The fact that airstrikes are happening there is deeply concerning.”
The airstrike took place in a densely populated area close to the Syrian-Turkish border that does not usually see active conflict. A lot of internally displaced Syrians had fled there during the latest military offensive in Northwest Syria, thinking the violence would not reach this area.
Over the past two weeks, there have been three occasions when MSF co-managed facilities in Idlib have received casualties following airstrikes. On two of these occasions, the facilities activated their mass casualty plans to treat the injured patients coming in.
This recent escalation of violence, in a region of Syria hosting over one million internally displaced people, happens as the health system is also being impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“There’s a real sense of emergency here, whether you look at the humanitarian setting, the public health emergency related to COVID-19 or the conflict,” says Reynders. “The addition of all these elements further complicates what was an already challenging situation in Idlib”