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Syria: Timely access to health-care services a matter of life or death

01-03-2013 Operational Update

Dozens of people are dying every day because of limited access to proper health-care services and shortages of essential medical supplies. The ICRC and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent are doing their utmost to help save lives by donating much-needed supplies throughout the country.

"Many lives could be saved and serious disabilities prevented if only the wounded had timely access to properly equipped health-care facilities," said Dr Andrea Reis, who coordinates the ICRC’s health activities in Syria. "Dozens of facilities across the country are contending with shortages of equipment, supplies and staff."

The ongoing fighting has damaged much of the country’s infrastructure, including hospitals and other health-care facilities. The hospitals that are still standing are struggling to function. Furthermore, people involved in the fighting are not showing enough respect for health-care providers and facilities. As just one example, since the beginning of the conflict numerous paramedics, including volunteers from the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, have lost their lives while trying to save the lives of others.

According to Dr Reis, "health care in the country continues to hinge mainly on health-care personnel obtaining safe access to the sick and the wounded." The lives of injured individuals often depend on how quickly paramedics or first-aid personnel can evacuate and treat them. "In heavily affected areas such as Aleppo and Deir Ezzor, reaching some hospitals is also a challenge. We have been able to channel some medical assistance to these areas through the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, but much more needs to be done," said the ICRC health coordinator.

Since the onset of the crisis in Syria, with the help of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, the ICRC has delivered enough surgical and other medical supplies to treat thousands of wounded patients across the country, including in opposition-controlled areas. Furthermore, the ICRC has recently donated supplies directly to a number of hospitals and other health-care facilities in Homs, Damascus and Rural Damascus in addition to supplies donated on a number of occasions to the Ministry of Health. Anaesthetic drugs, wound-dressing materials and intravenous fluids are among the items often requested and donated. "The needs are huge, however," pointed out Dr Reis.

To meet medical needs efficiently, the ICRC carries out assessments in hospitals and other health-care facilities whenever possible, either directly or together with the Syrian Arab Red Crescent. In February, after assessing needs in a number of hospitals in Homs, the ICRC donated medical supplies in Tal Kalakh, al-Holeh and elsewhere. "A large number of facilities in Syria are dealing with wounded patients on a daily basis," said Dr Reis. "They need a continuous flow of medical supplies to keep functioning and attending to needs. Left untreated, even a slight injury can become very serious or even fatal."

The ICRC remains gravely concerned about the lack of protection for medical services in Syria. Under international humanitarian law, the parties to the conflict must respect and protect health-care personnel, transports such as ambulances, and hospitals and other medical units in all circumstances. They must not be the object of attack and their work must not be unnecessarily impeded. The parties must facilitate their safe passage and take all possible measures to ensure that the sick and the wounded receive the medical care they require without delay.

Since the beginning of February, the ICRC has:

  • assessed needs and the surgical capacity in al-Waleed public hospital, al-Zaem private hospital and al-Birr private hospital in Homs, in addition to visiting the National Hospital of Tal Kalakh;
  • donated medicines and medical consumables to the Syrian Arab Red Crescent in al-Holeh's Kafar Laha village;
  • donated 150 intravenous-fluid sets – enough to treat 7,500 patients – to the Ministry of Health;
  • donated medicines to Al-Mojtahed hospital in Damascus.

Also in February, together with the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, the ICRC has:

  • delivered 60,000 litres of sodium hypochlorite, a water treatment product, to help the local water board in Deir Ezzor supply clean water to some 1.2 million people;
  • provided and installed a 1,000 kilovolt-ampere generator at a water treatment plant in Qussayr, in Homs governorate, to help the local water board ensure that clean water is available to 1.2 million people in Hama;
  • delivered water by truck to 65,000 people in Tal Kurdi and Al-Nabek in Rural Damascus;
  • continued upgrading water, housing and sanitary facilities at 147 public sites in Rural Damascus, Homs, Aleppo, al-Hassakeh, Swedia and al-Quneitra housing a total of 35,000 displaced people
  • provided 5,000 bottles of drinking water for some 30,000 people in Adra al-Ommalieh in Damascus.

In addition, together with the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, the ICRC has provided:

  • food parcels for over 170,700 people in Damascus, Rural Damascus, Homs, Deir Ezzor, al-Raqqa, Idlib, Aleppo and Lattakia;
  • mattresses, blankets and sleeping mats for more than 56,500 people in Damascus, Rural Damascus, Homs, Deir Ezzor, al-Raqqa, Idlib, Aleppo and Lattakia;
  • kitchen sets (cooking pots, plates, cups and cutlery) for 29,000 people in Homs, al-Raqqa, Rural Damascus, Damascus and Deir Ezzor;
  • hygiene items (shampoos, soaps, washing detergents, female hygiene items, etc.) for almost 100,000 people in Damascus, Rural Damascus, Homs, Deir Ezzor, al-Raqqa, Aleppo and Lattakia.

For further information, please contact:
Rima Kamal, ICRC Damascus, tel: +963 930 33 67 18 or +963 11 331 0476
Dibeh Fakhr, ICRC Geneva, tel: +41 22 730 37 23 or +41 79 447 37 26


Photos

Aleppo Hospital. An injured child being treated. 

Aleppo Hospital. An injured child being treated.
© ICRC / R. Garcia Vilanova / sy-e-00225

Aleppo. Al Shaar, Dar Al Shifa hospital. A war-wounded patient is transferred by ambulance to Turkey as Aleppo is lacking in medical equipment and resources. 

Aleppo. Al Shaar, Dar Al Shifa hospital. A war-wounded patient is transferred by ambulance to Turkey as Aleppo is lacking in medical equipment and resources.
© ICRC / R. Garcia Vilanova

Aleppo. People search through the ruins of a house for the bodies of two girls and their mother  

Aleppo. People search through the ruins of a house for the bodies of two girls and their mother
© ICRC / R. Garcia Vilanova / sy-e-00237

Aleppo. A child sits among the ruins of a house. 

Aleppo. A child sits among the ruins of a house.
© ICRC / sy-e-00215

Camp for displaced people in Lattakia 

Camp for displaced people in Lattakia
© ICRC / R. Kamal / sy-e-00249