On Thursday, February 16, 2017, AVSI Foundation officially launched the project Open Hospitals, which aims to enhance and empower three Catholic hospitals in Syria. The event took place in Rome at The Agostino Gemelli Teaching Hospital, which runs the Gemelli Foundation, AVSI’s partner in this project. The other partner is the Cor Unum, Pontifical Council in charge of directing and coordinating the organizations and charitable initiatives of the Catholic Church. Gemelli Foundation has already contributed to the Open Hospitals project with 1 million Euros. AVSI will run the project for three years and it aims to create 42,000 new hospital beds per year.
“In Syria, everything has been destroyed: houses, hospitals, infrastructures. Syrians are broken, their bodies are broken, their spirits are broken. There is an urgent need to fix not only the structures, but mainly the people,” said Cardinal Mario Zenari, the current Apostolic Nuncio to Syria. “It is just a drop, albeit a very precious drop, in our sea of necessities.”
The cardinal conceived the idea of the Open Hospitals project with Msgr. Giampetro Dal Toso, secretary of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development. The project will collect and financially support the Italian Hospital and St. Louis Hospital, in Damascus, and the St. Louis Hospital in Aleppo. Currently, these three hospitals are operating at half their capacity. AVSI’s project aims to increase the access to free health care services for patients who cannot afford them, establish a Social Services office to assess and guarantee access to treatment and care to those most in need, and update the information and technology systems of the hospitals by acquiring necessary equipment and training staff accordingly.
“Each of these hospitals is going to open new departments to face needs and urgencies that came out after the conflict: special departments for traumatized children, for women who were subjected to violence and rape during the conflict, and for those mutilated by war,” cardinal Zenari said.
After nearly six years of war, the Syrian health system is collapsing. According to UN OCHA current figures, an astounding 11.5 million Syrians, including nearly 5 million children, do not have access to health care. In Damascus, at least 1.5 million of people don’t have access to hospitals, and in Aleppo the number reaches 2.2 million.
“We can only survive a tragedy like this if we take little and concrete steps,” said Giovanni Raimondi, Gemelli Foundation president during the event.
“In Syria more people die for lack of healthcare than in the battlefield and this is unacceptable,” said Rocco Bellantone, dean of the Faculty of Medicine and Surgery at Gemelli Hospital.