News / Middle East

Syrian Conflict a Public Health Disaster

Injured Syrian women arrive at a field hospital after an air strike hit their homes in the town of Azaz on the outskirts of Aleppo, Syria, August 15, 2012.Injured Syrian women arrive at a field hospital after an air strike hit their homes in the town of Azaz on the outskirts of Aleppo, Syria, August 15, 2012.
x
Injured Syrian women arrive at a field hospital after an air strike hit their homes in the town of Azaz on the outskirts of Aleppo, Syria, August 15, 2012.
Injured Syrian women arrive at a field hospital after an air strike hit their homes in the town of Azaz on the outskirts of Aleppo, Syria, August 15, 2012.
Cecily Hilleary
The United Nations estimates the civil war raging in Syria has left more than 2.5 million people in dire need of food, water, drugs and medical supplies. 
 
After 18 months of fighting, thousands are dead and thousands more wounded.  If past wars are any indication, the health and well-being of Syrians will likely be affected long after the last guns are fired.

Before the uprising started, Syria boasted nearly 500 hospitals and 70 licensed pharmaceutical manufacturers that supplied 90 percent of the nation’s drugs. All that has changed. 

Tarik Jasarevic is a spokesman for the World Health Organization (WHO), which recently sent a team of observers into the embattled city of Homs.   He says many hospitals and health centers in Homs have been badly damaged by shelling. Only six of 12 public hospitals remain open, and eight out of 32 private hospitals are still in operation-- at greatly reduced capacity.

“The 350-bed National Hospital has been completely destroyed,” Jasarevic said. “Lack of access to health care facilities, both by patients who need care and health workers who provide care, is one of the main obstacles being faced.”

Staff shortages make matters worse. “At least half of all the medical doctors in Homs have left the city,” Jasarevic said.  “Many of the health facilities are staffed with volunteers who don’t have any medical or health training.”

My wife has many sicknesses like increasing glucose, cholesterol, heart problems and high blood pressure. My kids have problems sleeping. They are always waiting for someone to break through the front door…
Most of Syria's once-prosperous pharmaceutical industry was located in Aleppo, Homs and rural provinces near Damascus.  However, economic sanctions, violence, rising fuel costs and a shortage of raw materials have forced most of them to shut down. 
“As a result, there is a critical shortage of life-saving medicines, vaccines, insulin, antibiotics, cancer drugs—even basics like oxygen, nitrogen gas or anesthesia drugs,” Jasarevic said.
 
The disruption of Syria’s health care system means surgeries are being postponed and many patients with chronic health problems are not being treated.  Expectant mothers are not getting sufficient pre-natal care, and children are often skipping life-saving vaccinations. 
 
Human Costs
 
By late September, the Local Coordinating Committees had documented more than 25,000 dead from the fighting in Syria. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported a higher figure -- 27,000 dead, with more than 6,880 of them members of Syria’s armed forces and security agencies. 
 
Dr. Anas Al-Kassem is an Ontario-based surgeon and founder of the non-profit Canadian Relief for Syria (CRS). The group is made up of physicians who travel to the Turkish border with Syria every month to set up field hospitals and work to get much-needed medical supplies to the area.
 
Al-Kassem says that while the death toll from the fighting is catastrophic, more attention should be paid to the many Syrians who survive with debilitating injuries -- and what impact this will have on the country’s future. 
 
“Imagine, every day there’s almost 1,000 wounded -- added on top of the 1,000 wounded the day before,” Al-Kassem said.  “If you have 100,000 disabled, that means a half-a-million dependents will have lost the persons supporting them. 
 
“I think that’s going to be the major issue, these disabilities, and the psychological effect is going to be unbelievable,” he said. 
 
Moreover, Al-Kassem says the injuries he sees are getting more severe by the day.  Six months ago, he said, most of the injuries were gunshot wounds, something relatively familiar to doctors and comparatively easy to treat.
 
Now that the regime his firing on civilians from the air, Al-Kassem says he is seeing more dramatic injuries than he has ever seen before -- even during his trauma fellowship in a Canadian medical school.  
 
“Sometimes we don’t know where to start, what to do, how to ‘survive’ these patients,” Al-Kassem said. “So it is getting very, very impossible.  It’s a war zone there.”
 
Hidden Wounds
 
Civilians may not be taking a direct role in the fighting, but they experience war trauma in a number of indirect ways:  Their homes may be bombed.  They may be shot at.  They may lose family members or be displaced.  They may suffer shortages of food and water.  They may be arrested, beaten or raped.
 
Dr. Elie Karam is founder and director of the Beirut Institute for Development, Research, Advocacy and Applied Care and an expert on the impact of war on civilian mental health.  His studies of the population of Lebanon after its 16-year civil war demonstrate that war increases the risk of mental problems – including depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and/or problems with impulse control.   Syria, he predicts, will face the same challenges.
 
“You’re going to see a lot of depression,” he said.  “You are you going to see lots of anxiety disorders, including PTSD, and you are going to have an increase in impulse control disorders.” 
 
Refugees vulnerable
 
The United Nations says more than 250,000 Syrians have fled their homes for refugee camps in Turkey, Jordan and elsewhere—most of them women and children.  Studies suggest that refugees suffer from higher rates of PTSD and depression, particularly if they are disabled.
 
Children are perhaps the most vulnerable victims of war.  Dr. Barry S. Levy of the Tufts University School of Medicine in Massachusetts has studied the issue of children in war zones and is co-author of War and Public Health.
 
“Violence begets more violence,” he said in an interview with VOA. “When a child sees his family killed, suffers, witnesses atrocities or is uprooted – some of them seek revenge and that may go on for years or even generations.”
 
Reproductive health risks
 
War stress also contributes to complications in reproductive and sexual health.  A 2007 study on male infertility in Lebanon, for example, found that war may limit access to good obstetric care and assisted delivery, and this has been shown to lead to an increase in birth defects. 
 
According to the United Nations Population Fund, the bulk of Syrian refugees are women and children.  Women are more likely to be raped, as studies show that the power of rape as a tool of war goes up in countries where the greatest stigma is attached to a woman’s honor during peacetime.   But according to the Women’s Media Project, which has been tracking reported cases of rape in Syria, sexual violence is also being perpetrated against men and children.
 
Post Conflict Health Challenges
 
The Syrian International Coalition for Health (SICH) is a consortium of organizations and health care providers who have banded together to address Syria’s health care emergency. 
 
In an article in the forthcoming issue of the Avicenna Journal of Medicine, SICH member Mazen Kherallah and co-authors warn that Syria’s health care should not be allowed to collapse altogether, as has occurred in other regional conflicts.  Kherallah says SICH will meet in Geneva next month to discuss how to protect lives and reduce disease, malnutrition and disabilities in Syria -- and to empower Syria’s health care system so that it can meet war-related health care challenges in the future.

You May Like

Republican Majority in Congress Off to Rough Start

Standoff over Homeland Security funding exposes philosophical, tactical problems within party More

Pakistan Blocks Baloch Activist from US Trip

Human Rights Commission of Pakistan slams Islamabad officials for stopping people from leaving country to attend human rights conference More

Video Muslims Long Thrived in North Carolina Before Students Killed

Idyll shattered February 10, when three Muslim university students living in Chapel Hill were gunned down by a neighbor More

ILO: Women Still Losing Out in Global Work Place

International Labor Organization says women are marginally better off now than they were 20 years ago More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Ethan from: USA
September 29, 2012 3:28 PM
The world condition today makes one ashamed to be human.

by: Jack
September 28, 2012 8:04 PM
Let the Arab League pick up the tab.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Muslims Long Thrived in N Carolina Before Slaying of 3 Studentsi
X
Jerome Socolovsky
March 05, 2015 9:04 PM
The killings of three Muslim students in North Carolina early last month came as Muslims across the United States have felt under siege, partly as a result of terrorist attacks being committed internationally in the name of their faith. But Muslims have long thrived in university cities in this part of the American South. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Muslims Long Thrived in N Carolina Before Slaying of 3 Students

The killings of three Muslim students in North Carolina early last month came as Muslims across the United States have felt under siege, partly as a result of terrorist attacks being committed internationally in the name of their faith. But Muslims have long thrived in university cities in this part of the American South. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Fuel Shortages in Nigeria Threaten Election Campaigns

Nigeria is suffering a gas shortage as the falling oil price has affected the country’s ability to import and distribute refined fuels. Coming just weeks before scheduled March 28 elections, the shortage could have a big impact on the campaign, as Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA.
Video

Video Report: Human Rights in Annexed Crimea Deteriorating

A new report by Freedom House and the Atlantic Council of the United States says the human rights situation in Crimea has deteriorated since the peninsula was annexed by Russia in March of last year. The report says the new authorities in Crimea are discriminating against minorities, suppressing freedom of expression, and forcing residents to assume Russian citizenship or leave. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video 50 Years Later African-Americans See New Voting Rights Battles Ahead

Thousands of people will gather to mark the 50th anniversary of a historic civil rights march on March 7th in Selma, Alabama. In 1965, dozens of people were seriously injured during the event known as “Bloody Sunday,” after police attacked African-American demonstrators demanding voting rights. VOA’s Chris Simkins introduces us to some civil rights pioneers who are still fighting for voting rights in Alabama more than 50 years later.
Video

Video Craft Brewers Taking Hold in US Beer Market

Since the 1950’s, the U.S. beer industry has been dominated by a handful of huge breweries. But in recent years, the rapid rise of small craft breweries has changed the American market and, arguably, the way people drink beer. VOA’s Jeff Custer reports.
Video

Video Video Claims to Show Shia Forces in Iraq Executing Sunni Boy

A graphic mobile phone video is spreading on the Internet, claiming to show Iraqi forces or Shia militia executing a handcuffed Sunni boy. Experts have yet to verify the video, but already Islamic State followers are publicizing it across social media, playing on deep-rooted sectarian fears. VOA’s Jeff Seldin reports.
Video

Video Ukrainian Authorities Struggle to Secure a Divided Mariupol

Since last month's cease-fire went into effect, shelling around the port city of Mariupol has decreased, but it is thought pro-Russian separatists remain poised to attack. For the city’s authorities, a major challenge is gaining the trust of residents, while at the same time rooting out informants who are passing sensitive information to the rebels. Patrick Wells reports for VOA.
Video

Video Volunteer Gauge-Watchers Help Fine-Tune Weather Science

An observation system called CoCoRaHS is working to improve weather science, thanks to thousands of volunteers across the country who measure precipitation in their own backyards, then share their data through the Internet. VOA's Shelley Schlender reports.
Video

Video NASA Spacecraft Approaches a Dwarf Planet

NASA’s Dawn spacecraft will make history on Friday, March 6, when it becomes the first man-made object to orbit a dwarf planet named Ceres. It is located in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, almost 500 million kilometers from Earth. Among other objectives, Dawn will try to examine two mysterious bright white spots detected on the planet’s surface. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Young Muslims Radicalized Online

Young Muslims are being radicalized ‘in their bedrooms’ through direct contact with Islamic State or ISIL fighters via the Internet, according to terror experts. There are growing concerns that authorities and Internet providers are not doing enough to counter online extremism - which analysts say is spread by a prolific network of online supporters around the world. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Positive Messaging Transforms Ethiopia's Image

Ethiopia was once known for famine and droughts. Now, headlines more often point to its fast-growing economy and its emergence as a regional peacemaker. How has Addis Ababa changed the narrative? VOA's Marthe van der Wolf reports.
Video

Video Answers Elude Families of MH370 Passengers

For the families on board Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, an airline official’s statement nearly one year ago that the plane had lost contact with air traffic control at 2:40 AM is the only thing that remains confirmed. William Ide reports.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More