Syrian medical situation at a ‘breaking point’

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A group of more than 50 doctors and medical professionals say Syria’s health system is at a “breaking point” and are calling for action from the United Nations.

In an open letter to The Lancet, a leading medical journal, the signatories say they have been left “horrified” by the scale of the health emergency in Syria and are calling the situation “one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises since the end of the Cold War.”

Signatories of the letter include Harald zur Hausen, a German virologist who in 2008 won the Nobel Prize for research connecting the papilloma virus to cervical cancer.

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According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 37 per cent of Syria’s hospitals have been destroyed and another 20 per cent are severely damaged.

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Health care workers in Syria are also at serious risk. According to the Violations Documentation Centre, 469 health workers have been imprisoned and another 15,000 doctors have fled the country, says the Council on Foreign Relations.

In a report released in March by the Assessment Working Group for Northern Syria, of the 5,000 physicians in Aleppo before the conflict started, only 36 currently remain.

The growing number of people in desperate need of medical attention is increasing exponentially, says the letter, and the continued assaults on Syria’s medical infrastructure is creating a dire situation.

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“Horrific injuries are going untended; women are giving birth with no medical assistance; men, women, and children are undergoing life-saving surgery without anaesthetic; and victims of sexual violence have nowhere to turn to,” says the letter.

WHO chief Gro Harlem Brundtland is among signatories demanding their medical colleagues in Syria be allowed to treat patients, save lives, and alleviate suffering without the fear of attacks or reprisals.

“We call on the UN and international donors to increase support to Syrian medical networks, in both government and opposition areas, where, since the beginning of the conflict, health professionals have been risking their lives to provide essential services in an extremely hostile environment.”

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To view our full coverage of the crisis in Syria, click here.

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