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

Islamic State Survivor: A Yazidi Girl's Tale

Sarah Said Haydar, captured a year ago while fleeing Islamic State onslaught in northern Iraq, was so traumatized by militants, she sought to end her own life More

EU, US Applaud Kosovo Law on Special Court

Joint statement says lawmakers' decision to address allegations of war crimes 'demonstrated their commitment to the rule of law and to honor international agreements' More

ASEAN Ministers to Push for S. China Sea Agreements

According to documents obtained by VOA Khmer, ministers will stand up for 'freedom of navigation, unimpeded lawful maritime commerce, trade and over flight' 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.
Cambodia Makes Progress Curbing Bear Tradei
X
Robert Carmichael
August 04, 2015 3:07 PM
Cambodia’s wild bears are under unprecedented pressure. Their native forests are being cut down at record rates, and China's huge demand for traditional medicine has made them targets. But experts say Cambodia's conservation efforts are setting an example that has put it well ahead of its neighbors in protecting bears. Robert Carmichael reports for VOA from Phnom Penh.
Video

Video Cambodia Makes Progress Curbing Bear Trade

Cambodia’s wild bears are under unprecedented pressure. Their native forests are being cut down at record rates, and China's huge demand for traditional medicine has made them targets. But experts say Cambodia's conservation efforts are setting an example that has put it well ahead of its neighbors in protecting bears. Robert Carmichael reports for VOA from Phnom Penh.
Video

Video Growing Number of E. Jerusalem Palestinians Seek Israeli Citizenship

Most Palestinians living in East Jerusalem have long rejected the option of full Israeli citizenship, seeing it as a betrayal to their political cause - the formation of a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital. But as that dream remains elusive, more and more Palestinians are applying for Israeli citizenship. Zlatica Hoke reports the decision is hard for many Palestinians who say they have to be pragmatic about it.
Video

Video With No Money, More Students, African Universities Struggle

Academics from around the African continent converged in Johannesburg last week for the African Universities Summit, a chance to tackle some of the major issues facing higher education in Africa today. VOA's Anita Powell reports from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Iraqi Yazidis Fear Death of Their Community

A year ago on August 3, Islamic State militants stormed the homelands of Iraq’s Yazidi minority, killing hundreds of men and enslaving thousands of women. The scenes of desperate Yazidi families crowding on the top of Sinjar mountain without food or water spurred Kurdish fighters into action, an emergency airlift and the start of the U.S. airstrike campaign against the Islamic State Sunni extremists. VOA's Sharon Benh reports from northern Iraq.
Video

Video Bangkok Warned It Soon Could Be Submerged

Italy's Venice and America's New Orleans are not the only cities gradually submerging. The nearly ten million residents of the Bangkok urban area now must confront warnings the city could become uninhabitable in a few decades. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from the Thai capital.
Video

Video Inclusive Gym Gets People With Disabilities in Fitness Spirit

Individuals with special needs are 58 percent more likely to be obese than the general population. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, they also have an increased likelihood of anxiety, depression and social isolation. But a sports club outside Washington wants to make a difference in these people's lives. With Carol Pearson narrating, VOA's June Soh reports.
Video

Video Wisconsin's Voter ID Law Still Mired In Controversy

Voter ID laws have sparked controversy across the US. More than 30 states enacted laws requiring citizens to show identification before they vote. Against fierce opposition, the state of Wisconsin recently enacted one the most restrictive voter ID laws in country. As Jeff Swicord reports, no one can predict its impact as the 2016 election nears.
Video

Video Astronauts Train Underwater for Deep Space Missions

Manned deep space missions are still a long way off, but space agencies are already testing procedures, equipment and human stamina for operations in extreme environment conditions. Small groups of astronauts take turns in spending days in an underwater lab, off Florida’s southern coast, simulating future missions to some remote world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Ebola Vaccine Hailed as Highly Effective

At last, there's a way to end the suffering from the Ebola epidemic that has ravaged West Africa for more than a year. Researchers say the vaccine is so effective, there may never be a major outbreak of Ebola again. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
Video

Video Special Olympics Show Competitors' Skill, Determination

Special Olympics competitions will wrap up Saturday in Los Angeles, and the closing ceremony for athletes with intellectual disabilities will be held Sunday night. In a week of competition, athletes have shown what they can do through skill and determination. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Civil Rights Leaders Struggled to Achieve Voting Rights Act

Fifty years ago, lawmakers approved, and U.S. President Lyndon Johnson signed, the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The measure outlawed racial discrimination in voting, giving millions of blacks in many parts of the southern United States federal enforcement of the right to vote. Correspondent Chris Simkins introduces us to some civil rights leaders who were on the front lines in the struggle for voting rights.
Video

Video Shooter’s Grill: Serving Food with a Touch of the Second Amendment

Shooter's Grill, a restaurant in Rifle, Colorado, attracts visitors from all over the world as well as local patrons. The reason? Waitresses openly carry loaded firearms as they serve food, and customers are welcome to carry them, too. VOA's Enming Liu and Lin Yang paid a visit to Shooter's Grill, and heard different opinions about this unique establishment.
Video

Video Despite Controversy, Business Owner Continues Sale of Confederate Flags

At Cooter’s, a store in rural Sperryville, Virginia, about 120 kilometers west of Washington, D.C., Confederate flags are flying off the shelves. The red, white and blue battle flag, with 13 white stars representing the Confederate states, was carried by southern forces during the U.S. Civil War in the 1860s. The South had seceded from the Union over several key issues of disagreement, including slavery. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.
Video

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Hometown of Boy Scouts of America Founder Reacts to Gay Leader Decision

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

VOA Blogs