Turkey: Health Cluster Bulletin, May 2021



▪ On May 1st, the COVID-19 vaccination campaign was kicked off in northwest Syria (NWS). The first batch of AstraZeneca vaccine, produced by the Serum Institute of India, will target 21,313 health care workers, 25,000 non-health community workers in addition to high-risk population groups with associated chronic comorbidities. The total target to be vaccinated with the first batch is 855,000 people (to cover 20 % of the population).

▪ Until May 31st , a total of 137,577 RT-PCR tests carried out in NWS, 23,541 laboratory-confirmed cases of COVID-19 were detected, 673 were COVID19’s associated deaths and 2,644 recovered.

▪ On May 31st, on the “World No Tobacco Day”, the World Health Organization (WHO) echoed its voice supporting people quitting tobacco to reduce their risk of severe COVID-19. The slogan of this year was: “Commit to Quit”. This day started in 1987 and created by the Member States of the World Health Organization to draw global attention to the tobacco epidemic and the preventable death and disease it causes1 .

▪ The Global Health Cluster (GHC) released the Health Cluster 2020 Annual Report (online version).
The report compiles accomplishments, challenges, and lessons learned from 2020, organized by the five strategic priories aligned with the Health Cluster Strategy for 2020-2023. There is also a PDF version and can be downloaded via the GHC website. https://healthcluster.who.int/

Situation Update:

The expiry date of the current United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 2533 (2020) is due on July 10th, 2021 when the hostility in northwest Syria (NWS) continues to be the daily suffering for very vulnerable people living under dire security and economic situation. Only Bab al-Hawa crossing was agreed, by the current UNSCR 2533, to be used to deliver humanitarian aids to NWS from Turkey via cross-border points. As per OCHA, the United Nations agencies sent from Turkey assistance to 2.4 million Syrians monthly, with approximately 1,000 trucks of aid crossing the border each month in 2020 and 20217 . In addition, the first batch of COVID-19’s vaccine was transported to NWS, in line with the UNSCR 2533. Therefore, ending the UNSCR and not granting its renewal might put an end to the UN’s COVID-19’s vaccine campaign that should be delivered to millions of people in northwest Syria. Also, without an extension and or renewal of the UNSCR, the essential humanitarian aids might not be able to reach some 3.4 million people in NWS, including medicines, food, kits, etc., via humanitarian NGOs in NWS.
Cross-border assistance continues to rely on UN aid deliveries enabled through the Security Council Resolution. In May, 979 UN trucks delivered cross-border assistance to northwest Syria through the Bab AlHawa border crossing. The south of the M4 highway and around the M5 highway are still the hot spots where most of the hostility was reported by health agencies or by media channels. “Overall, the UN Human Rights Office (OHCHR) verified that at least 12 civilians were killed (including five women and four children) and at least 17 civilians (including four children) were injured as a result of shelling and airstrikes in April and May8”.
Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs), Vehicle-Borne Improvised Explosive Devices (VBIEDs), shelling and nonstate armed groups conflict are the main events reported continuously over the weeks and years in NWS. A burden on very vulnerable civilians is continuous in NWS, finding themselves dead, injured, very poor, and internally displaced while dealing with yearly floods affecting camps and settlements when the economic situation is collapsing due to the devaluation of the Syrian Pound (SYP).
The devaluation of the SYP against the US Dollar is continuous since late 2019 with the most significant devaluations noted in March 2021. Even with the SYP’s slight rebound in April and May, it stayed over 40 % weaker than it was on the same date last year. The main impact is the increase of the prices, services, and rents which can have a drastic negative repercussion on health services. In general, the people in NWS are not able to meet their basic needs or even to afford bread, fuel, and other vital commodities.
On COVID-19, a published assessment in May entitled “Community COVID-19 Perceptions”, edition 1, was made by the Humanitarian Needs Assessment Programme (HNAP), as a joint UN initiative to monitor the humanitarian needs inside Syria. The assessment checked on the community mitigation measures for COVID-19 including enforcement of masks, quarantine or site isolation, partial or total curfews, travel restrictions, closure measures, and any other measures. The results were not optimistic (refer to the photo on the right from HNAP) in Idleb, Aleppo, Afrin, AlBab, Azaz, Jarabulus, Jindires, Rajo, Tal Abyad, and Ras al-Ayn as 37 % of the community doesn’t have mitigation measures in place. Therefore, the current increase in positive confirmed COVID-19 cases is classified as worrisome in line with this assessment especially in crowded locations such as IDPs camps/settlements. The main factor stands to the laxity to apply the Infection, Prevention and Control (IPC) measures in the community as well in some health facilities. In addition, the delay that occurred to the COVID-19 vaccination campaign delayed the development of a community immunity that can help in avoiding a tentative increase in cases in the upcoming next weeks.