Syria

Statement by Muhannad Hadi, Regional Humanitarian Coordinator for the Syria Crisis All parties in Syria must ensure access to health for all during the COVID-19 crisis and take clear steps to end attacks on healthcare [EN/AR]

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On this World Health Day, we reflect on two tragic realities in Syria: a healthcare system weakened by ten years of conflict and a year of the COVID-19 pandemic, which is further pushing the healthcare system to a breaking point. The implications for the people of Syria are catastrophic.

The strain on the healthcare system caused by COVID-19 in Syria is contributing the worsening humanitarian situation by leaving people more prone to COVID-19 infection and dying unnecessarily of conditions that would otherwise be easily treated. COVID-19 transmission is a major threat to all Syrians and is particularly high among frontline health workers. However, internally displaced persons, including women and girls, and detainees are at particular risk due to overcrowding, inadequate access to water and sanitation, high existing morbidity levels, limited resources, and poor access to healthcare and critical basic services.

While there have been many tangible results in meeting health and humanitarian needs of people throughout Syria, the continuing socioeconomic downturn and rising prices for food and healthcare services are likely to contribute to the deteriorating humanitarian crisis. Access to healthcare remains limited across the country, with only 53 per cent of public healthcare centres continuing to function. We also see that insecurity in the health system is being exacerbated by the ever-looming threat and realization of hostilities.

The attack on Al-Atareb Surgical Hospital in Aleppo on 21 March is only one of many terrible examples of acts of damage and violence against hospitals, medical personnel, patients, and transportation. From January 2018 to April 2021, WHO has recorded at least 261 attacks on healthcare across Syria, resulting in at least 179 deaths and 363 injuries among health workers, patients, and civilians. These attacks and the ill-treatment of the sick and wounded, tragic features of the Syrian conflict, have prevented people from accessing adequate healthcare. Furthermore, doctors and other health personnel providing medical assistance have been arrested and targeted since the beginning of the conflict, which has negatively impacted the necessary provision and access to healthcare.

As we mark World Health Day, I call for all parties to ensure access to health for all, such that COVID19 and other major health risks can be addressed. I also strongly condemn the horrific acts of violence against medical facilities and health workers and reiterate that all parties to the conflict must respect the special protection afforded to medical personnel and units. I urge that all attacks affecting medical facilities and health workers be promptly, fully and impartially investigated, and those responsible be brought to justice.

For further information, please contact: Torsten Flyng, Strategic Communications Officer, OCHA Regional Office for the Syria Crisis (ROSC), Amman, torsten.flyng@un.org