News / Middle East

Syrian-American Doctor: Medical Workers Among Those Killed in Gas Attack

A survivor from what activists say is a gas attack rests inside a mosque in the Duma neighborhood of Damascus, Aug. 21, 2013.
A survivor from what activists say is a gas attack rests inside a mosque in the Duma neighborhood of Damascus, Aug. 21, 2013.
TEXT SIZE - +
Cecily Hilleary
— United Nations chemical weapons inspectors continue their investigation into reported nerve gas attacks in the Damascus suburbs last week and say they will need another four days to complete their inquiry. Born in Homs, Zaher Sahloul is a physician and president of the Syrian American Medical Society, which has been very active in supporting physicians and hospitals inside Syria, as well as refugees affected by the ongoing crisis.

Sahloul was reached by telephone in Chicago, where he practices pulmonary medicine, and provided an update.
 
"Since last Wednesday [August 21], we have had continuous communication with the doctors in the east Ghouta area. This is the area where most of the attacks happened, and we actually set up a situation room to deal with the situation.  We have physicians from here and from our regional offices in Jordan and Turkey, in addition to doctors in east Ghouta communicating about their response, the complications that they face and what they are lacking, and how to improve their response, and also what is the contingency plan in case we have attacks like that in the future—especially in light of the expected strike on Syria and what may follow as retaliation from the regime using chemical weapons or chemical weapons."
 
So what we are seeing there, is it consistent with the use of nerve agents?
 
Zaher SahloulZaher Sahloul
x
Zaher Sahloul
Zaher Sahloul
"Yes. The symptoms that the doctors are describing are consistent with exposure to phospho-organic chemicals--or what’s called 'nerve gas.' Symptoms include respiratory complaints, increased secretions, chest tightness, shortness of breath, respiratory failure. Patients stop breathing, so many of them require intubation and mechanical ventilation. And also they have neurological symptoms, like convulsions and delusions.  And also they have eye symptoms—constricted or pinpoint pupils.  And these symptoms are consistent to nerve gas or sarin gas.
 
Of course there’s no way to confirm that for sure because there are no labs in that area—or in Syria—to confirm that use, but I know that physicians took samples -- blood and hair and urine samples and also, from the clothing of the patients – and they will probably share them with the U.N. investigation team.
 
Also, patients responded to the antidote to nerve gas, which is Atropine, which would probably indicate that the problem they are dealing with was nerve gas exposure."

So you are saying if it were not nerve gas exposure, the Atropine wouldn’t be effective?
 
"That’s correct. The other thing that also pointed to nerve gas exposure was the fact that many of the medical personnel, whether they were nurses, doctors or medics who were the first responders who participated in taking care of the patients, they had symptoms also. And unfortunately, one of the physicians died. Three nurses and one of the medics also died, and we had about 15 to 20 medical personnel who developed symptoms. Some of them required injections of antidote. Some of them required intubation and admission to the intensive care unit. We are still waiting for the final tally of medical personnel who had either symptoms or died due to the exposure.  But this also points to exposure to nerve gas."
 
One hears that the symptoms vary by the concentrations that people are exposed to.  What have you heard about how it was delivered—in other words, what kind of exposure are we talking here?
 
"What we heard is that we had several shells that fell and exploded in an area that is very concentrated with civilians.  This is a relatively small area, but very congested.  There are about 1.5 million civilians who live in the east Ghouta area, but according to the physicians there, the activists, there were about 26 missiles that were used to deliver chemical weapons, and the difference between this incident and other incidents, of course, besides the number of missiles used is that it looks like a higher concentration of the nerve gas that led to many deaths amongst civilians.  Also, the wider area that this attack that happened in east Ghouta--it targeted Zamalka, Ein Tarma and Jobar, so these are larger areas than the previous attacks, with lots of civilians. 
 
A U.N. chemical weapons expert wearing a gas mask carries samples collected from one of the sites of an alleged chemical weapons attack in the Ain Tarma neighbourhood of Damascus August 28, 2013. U.N. chemical weapons experts investigating an apparent gasA U.N. chemical weapons expert wearing a gas mask carries samples collected from one of the sites of an alleged chemical weapons attack in the Ain Tarma neighbourhood of Damascus August 28, 2013. U.N. chemical weapons experts investigating an apparent gas
x
A U.N. chemical weapons expert wearing a gas mask carries samples collected from one of the sites of an alleged chemical weapons attack in the Ain Tarma neighbourhood of Damascus August 28, 2013. U.N. chemical weapons experts investigating an apparent gas
A U.N. chemical weapons expert wearing a gas mask carries samples collected from one of the sites of an alleged chemical weapons attack in the Ain Tarma neighbourhood of Damascus August 28, 2013. U.N. chemical weapons experts investigating an apparent gas
And unfortunately, people panicked and the response was not what we would like to have in an incident like this.  This is to be expected.  This is a third world country, and people are not used to responding to chemical weapons attacks on that scale.  Resources are very limited.  You know, this area has been under siege for the past year, and even if you were to send them everything they need, it’s very difficult to get things in."
 
What do you say to those people who argue that the regime did not send these missiles, that it was the rebels themselves?
 
"That’s crazy. This theory that rebels did that is laughable, to say the least.  The rebels do not kill their children or their families to prove a point or something. Another thing that one of the physicians over there told me –because I asked the same question, you know, the first night.  I asked them the same question: 'How come the regime is using this now that you have the United Nations investigators only a half an hour away from this area?'
 
And their response was, first of all, the regime never cared about the United Nations one year ago, when the U.N. came to Syria, when the Houla massacre was committed.  And the U.N. investigation team when there and they saw with their own eyes what happened in the Houla village, around Homs.  And the other thing that they said is that this area [Ghouta] was very strategic in terms of location, and the regime troops were trying to retake it using conventional methods and ground troops for the past seven or eight months and failed to do so.  So that’s probably why they used chemical weapons. 
 
And the third thing:  If you look at the regime media, they initially denied it completely, which doesn’t make sense.  I mean, can we not believe our own eyes—and all these victims—and then their media?  And then after that, they blamed it on the rebels. So if the rebels had used it, why wouldn’t the regime propaganda have accused them from the beginning?"

You May Like

War Legacy Haunts Vietnam, US Relations

US congressional delegation initiates $84 million Agent Orange cleanup project More

Wikipedia Proves Useful for Tracking Flu

Technique gave better results than Center for Disease Control (CDC) and Google’s Flu Trends More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Ukraine, Russia, United in Faith, Divided in Politicsi
X
Michael Eckels
April 19, 2014
There is a strong historical religious connection between Russia and Ukraine. But what role is religion playing in the current conflict? In the run-up to Easter, Michael Eckels in Moscow reports for VOA.
Video

Video Ukraine, Russia, United in Faith, Divided in Politics

There is a strong historical religious connection between Russia and Ukraine. But what role is religion playing in the current conflict? In the run-up to Easter, Michael Eckels in Moscow reports for VOA.
Video

Video Face of American Farmer is Changing

The average American farmer is now 58 years old, and farmers 65 and older are the fastest growing segment of the population. It’s a troubling trend signaling big changes ahead for American agriculture as aging farmers retire. Reporter Mike Osborne says a new report from the U.S. Census Bureau is suggesting what some of those changes might look like... and why they might not be so troubling.
Video

Video Donetsk Governor: Ukraine Military Assault 'Delicate But Necessary'

Around a dozen state buildings in eastern Ukraine remain in the hands of pro-Russian protesters who are demanding a referendum on self-rule. The governor of the whole Donetsk region is among those forced out by the protesters. He spoke to VOA's Henry Ridgwell from his temporary new office in Donetsk city.
Video

Video Drones May Soon Send Data From High Seas

Drones are usually associated with unmanned flying vehicles, but autonomous watercraft are also becoming useful tools for jobs ranging from scientific exploration to law enforcement to searching for a missing airliner in the Indian Ocean. VOA’s George Putic reports on sea-faring drones.
Video

Video New Earth-Size Planet Found

Not too big, not too small. Not too hot, not too cold. A newly discovered planet looks just right for life as we know it, according to an international group of astronomers. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Copts in Diaspora Worry About Future in Egypt

Around 10 percent of Egypt’s population belong to the Coptic faith, making them the largest Christian minority in the Middle East. But they have become targets of violence since the revolution three years ago. With elections scheduled for May and the struggle between the Egyptian military and Islamists continuing, many Copts abroad are deeply worried about the future of their ancient church. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky visited a Coptic church outside Washington DC.
Video

Video Critics Say Venezuelan Protests Test Limits of Military's Support

During the two months of deadly anti-government protests that have rocked the oil-rich nation of Venezuela, President Nicolas Maduro has accused the opposition of trying to initiate a coup. Though a small number of military officers have been arrested for allegedly plotting against the government, VOA’s Brian Padden reports the leadership of the armed forces continues to support the president, at least for now.
Video

Video More Millenials Unplug to Embrace Board Games

A big new trend in the U.S. toy industry has more consumers switching off their high-tech gadgets to play with classic toys, like board games. This is especially true among the so-called millenial generation - those born in the 1980's and 90's. Elizabeth Lee has more from an unusual café in Los Angeles, where the new trend is popular and business is booming.
Video

Video Google Buys Drone Company

In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
AppleAndroid