Syria: Health workers describe mayhem as WHO urgently delivers medicine and supplies to ensure continued health services

News and Press Release
Originally published

WHO’s supplies will provide more than 225,000 treatment courses to internally displaced Syrians in Idleb and Aleppo where hostilities continue to escalate.

28 February, 2020 – Geneva/Copenhagen/Cairo – In a two-day operation, the World Health Organization has sent seven truckloads or 55 tons of medicine and medical supplies, from Turkey into Idleb governorate and parts of Aleppo, that have since December 2019 seen the largest exodus of internally displaced Syrians in the nine year history of the Syria conflict.

“This is the bleakest situation we’ve been in since the war started. People don’t have an idea where to go, they only know they need to get away from the bombing,” says a surgeon in northwestern Aleppo governorate.

As hostilities grind on and forced displacement towards Turkey’s border continue, the burden on health facilities keeps growing. Out of the 84 health facilities that have been forced to suspend operations since December last year, 31 have been able to relocate and provide services where people have sought refuge from bombardments.

As a result, more than 133,000 medical outpatient consultations will not take place, nearly 11,000 trauma patients are not catered to and 1,500 major surgeries will not be performed as they normally would in a cycle of four weeks.

Due to the massive depopulation of entire areas, the caseload on functioning health facilities in Idleb is disproportionate – with deserted health facilities on the one hand, and facilities that are stretched far beyond their capacity on the other.

"These supplies will meet a dire and growing need and enable continued services; in three months, nearly one million people have been displaced”, says Richard Brennan, WHO‘s Regional Emergency Director for the Eastern Mediterranean.

The supplies WHO sent to Syria’s northwest in UN convoys through the border crossings of Bab al Hawa and Bab al Sama on February 25 and 26, including equipment for 3,200 trauma and surgical treatments, are currently being distributed to WHO’s implementing health partners in more than 150 facilities - which is approximately half of functioning health facilities in the northwest. While there has been a sharp rise in trauma cases, health workers are also treating respiratory tract infections, due to poor shelter and harsh weather conditions, as well as complications of non-chronic diseases such as heart disease and diabetes, due to irregular access to medicines.

“The burden and sacrifice of health workers in the northwestern governorates is now unimaginable, it’s only a matter of days until we surpass 1 million displaced people. That means health responders are working around the clock to serve patients, under an enormous strain, often putting their own lives on the line,” says Brennan.

Partners of the World Health Organization that are providing health services in the area have been describing how overwhelmed health staff and facilities are. Speaking to WHO, a pediatrician in Idleb city said there was no time nor capacity to deal with issues that were not life-threatening, and then added: “This is not sustainable. The majority of our hospital staff on the ground, around 70 people, evacuated to the north with their families and then chose to return to Idleb city to carry out their duty and continue taking care of patients. People’s mental health is poor, both of those seeking assistance and of health staff alike.”

A general practitioner, working 10km from Darat Izza in Aleppo governorate where two hospitals were attacked on 17 February, expressed concerns of a lack of medicine, gloves, syringes and bandages, “while both primary health care centers and hospitals are trying to work with what they have. The caseload in some hospitals is now double, while resources are the same or less. The number of hospitals and health centers around us is still decreasing due to the frequent targeting of health facilities”.

As of 28 February, attacks on health in Syria since the mass displacement started on 1st of December 2019, are 11 in total, causing 10 deaths and 37 injuries.

Stills and footage from Bab al Salam and Bab al Hawa border crossings, February 25-26, 2020.

Media contact:

Hedinn Halldorsson
WHO Gaziantep
+90 538 544 29 57

Inas Hamam
WHO Regional Office
+20 01000 157 385