Millions of children’s lives at risk in collapse of Syrian health system
Syria’s shattered health system is forcing health workers to engage in brutal medical practices and a series of epidemics have left millions of children exposed to a plethora of deadly diseases, Save the Children says in a new report.
The report, ‘A devastating toll: the impact of three years of war on the health of Syria’s children’, sheds light on a broken health system and its consequences: children not just dying from violent means but from diseases that would previously either have been treatable or prevented.
The extent of the health system collapse in Syria is borne out in many horrific ways, including:
- Children having limbs amputated because clinics don't have necessary equipment for appropriate treatment
- Newborn babies dying in their incubators during power cuts
- Patients being knocked out with metal bars owing to a lack of anaesthesia
- Patients undergoing potentially deadly person-to-person blood transfusions
“This humanitarian crisis has fast become a health crisis,” Save the Children’s Regional Director Roger Hearn said. “Children inside are enduring barbaric conditions. Simply finding a doctor is a matter of luck; finding one with the necessary equipment and medication to provide proper treatment has become almost impossible. The desperate measures to which medical personnel are resorting to keep children alive are increasingly harrowing.”
One doctor working inside Syria told Save the Children: “Every day we have injured children suffering from critical burns and fractures, they need to have complicated operations but in this small hospital we don’t have the capacity. In some cases we have to cut their limbs off to try to save their lives – because if we don’t they will bleed to death.”
Among the most worrying trends is the re-emergence of deadly and disfiguring diseases such as polio and measles, which can permanently maim, paralyse and even kill. Up to 80,000 children are likely to be infected by polio's most aggressive form and are silently spreading the disease.
The majority of illnesses affecting children right now inside Syria are treatable and mostly preventable within a functioning health system. Those diseases include measles, diarrhoea, and respiratory illnesses, all among the most deadly diseases worldwide for children aged under five. As one measure of how far Syria’s health systems have fallen, in 2010, a total of 26 measles cases were reported in the whole of Syria for the entire year. In the first week of 2014, just in children aged under five, 84 cases were recorded in northern Syria alone.
Two hundred thousand Syrians have died of treatable chronic diseases such as cancer, asthma and diabetes – double the number killed by violence. It is probable that many thousands of these were children. No longer able to buy medication or access regular medical care, everyday conditions are now fatal.
Across Syria, 60 per cent of hospitals are damaged or destroyed. Nearly half of Syria's doctors have fled the country: in Aleppo, a city which should have 2,500 doctors, only 36 remain. Of the country's ambulances, 93 per cent have been damaged, stolen or destroyed, while many health workers and medical staff have been killed, imprisoned, or have fled the country altogether.
Save the Children calls for the United Nations Security Council’s unanimous resolution on humanitarian access to be implemented immediately, and for children and their families to be given access now to vaccines, food, water, medicines and other life-saving assistance, wherever it is needed.
Mr Hearn said: “The international community is failing Syria's children, as they are injured and wounded and are unable to access treatment, as they contract polio and other preventable diseases that kill and disfigure them, and as they suffer and die from not being able to get the right medicine. World leaders must stand up for the smallest victims of this conflict and send a clear message that their suffering and deaths will no longer be tolerated.”