Washington, D.C. -- Health facilities in northwest Syria are quickly becoming overwhelmed as a new wave of COVID-19 spreads through the area. ICU units at COVID-19 hospitals have reached up to 93% of their occupancy rate, and health personnel are facing a lack of crucial supplies due to the rise in cases. Critical gaps in oxygen supplies, testing kits, vaccines, and sustainable support for COVID-19 facilities must be urgently addressed.
Northwest Syria is currently experiencing a second wave of COVID-19 cases after the initial wave reported in November 2020. Surveillance teams in Northwest Syria have confirmed 76,967 cases of COVID-19 to date. On October 3rd alone, 1,016 new cases were confirmed, and test positivity rates have reached as high as 61%. The rapid spread is due to the Delta variant, which has been detected in 98% of new cases. COVID-19 health facilities are overwhelmed with patients. 5 out of 9 isolation units are at or over capacity, and ventilators in ICU units treating COVID-19 patients are at 98% utilization.
"The situation is rapidly deteriorating. Our doctors and nurses are bravely responding as best they can given the circumstances, but they need more resources to be able to combat this current wave," said SAMS President, Dr. Amjad Rass.
As the overall case numbers have risen, so have fatalities. 1,407 deaths have been attributed to COVID-19 in NW Syria to date. Of the 462 COVID-19 deaths between May 1 and October 2, only 7 were partially or fully vaccinated. Yet only 1.8% of the population of northwest Syria has received one dose of the vaccine, while only 0.8% has received two doses.
"The international community must prioritize the delivery of high-efficacy vaccines to conflict-affected areas such as Syria, whose population is extremely vulnerable and whose health system capacity has been dramatically reduced due to the conflict," said Dr. Rass.
The virus is also spreading especially rapidly among vulnerable populations, as 1,130 cases have been confirmed in IDP camps. With the arrival of winter, people living in camps are particularly vulnerable to contract the virus, given the lack of adequate access to shelter and hygiene supplies and facilities that limit IDPs' ability to implement COVID-19 mitigation measures.
"The Delta variant is much more difficult to treat. We have received many severe cases of women and children in the ICU. We did not receive as many cases from these two groups in the previous wave" explained Ibrahim Aboud, manager of SAMS-supported Al-Ziraa hospital in Idlib city. "On average, a patient spends 15 days in the ICU. All beds are occupied, and the moment we discharge a patient, we immediately admit someone else. Yet the number of cases continues to increase, and we are under severe pressure."
Immediate steps must be taken to mitigate the spread of this wave of the pandemic, as medical staff increasingly feel the burden and trauma of responding to COVID-19. In addition to continued education about and access to vaccines, we must ensure that the crucial gaps in oxygen supplies, medications, hospital beds, and other key supplies and equipment are filled so that medical staff have all the resources they need to continue saving lives.