GENEVA - The World Health Organization is demanding "immediate, unhindered" access to victims of a suspected chemical attack on the Syrian town of Douma. The WHO says it has received reports from its partners on the ground that dozens of people have died and an estimated 500 people are showing symptoms consistent with exposure to toxic chemicals.
WHO spokesman Tarik Jasarevic tells VOA the agency cannot verify reports of the use of toxic substances last Saturday in Douma because the WHO has no direct access to the area.
He does, say, however, that the information the WHO has received comes from national and international health partners with whom it has worked for years. Jasarevic says these reports indicate the general population was exposed to toxic agents.
“The people who were reportedly coming to health facilities included men, women and children, so the general population. They presented symptoms like respiratory failure, like discharge of mucous membrane and other symptoms that are consistent with the exposure to chemicals, like difficulty in breathing, eye irritation and other symptoms,” Jasarevic said.
The U.N. agency says the reports indicate that more than 70 people sheltering in basements have died. It says two health facilities also reportedly were affected by the alleged attacks.
The Syrian government denies being behind these alleged chemical attacks and has invited a team from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons to investigate. A senior WHO official has voiced outrage at the "horrific reports and images" from Douma, a suburb of Damascus.
U.S. President Donald Trump says the government of Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad - who Trump labelled an "animal" - has a "big price to pay" and is threatening a military strike in retaliation for the alleged chemical attack.