“I spent months immobilized. I couldn’t walk or work. I couldn’t even afford to buy candy for my son,” remembers Ibrahim.
Two years ago, Ibrahim saw his house get hit by a rocket and suddenly bricks were collapsing on his body causing disjointed fractures on his leg.
“It is only thanks to the healthcare workers and the doctors that treated me at the French hospital in Damascus that today I can dream once more about a better future for my family and myself," says Ibrahim.
Ibrahim is one of the 23,000 Syrians who have so far received free treatment thanks to the project “Open Hospitals”, launched in Syria in 2017 on the initiative of Cardinal Mario Zenari, Apostolic Nuncio to Syria and implemented by AVSI as a response to the humanitarian crisis in Syria.
In ten simple points, we explain how the Syria conflict has damaged the country’s health system, why millions of people no longer have access to treatment and care and how you can help change this through AVSI’s campaign Operations Open Hospitals.
1. What is happening in Syria:
Since 2011, Syria has been shaken by conflict that has resulted in what UNHCR has described as “the biggest humanitarian and refugee crisis of our time.” In 2016, the UN agency estimated that 13.5 million people, including 6 million children, were in need of humanitarian assistance. Almost 9 million people live every day hungry or with food insecurity (fear of going hungry) as a daily part of life because they don’t have reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable and nutritious food.
2. The collapse of the health system
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.
3. Lack of health care personnel
The critical condition is growing mainly because of the chronic shortage of human and material resources. It is estimated that 55% of the public hospitals and 49% of the health community centers are closed or only partially functional. The health infrastructures still in place are in critical condition since it is difficult to access electricity, fuel and drinking water. In addition, more than 658 people who used to work in these structures have been killed since the beginning of the crisis.
Of the Syrian medical personnel, only about 45% are left and active in the country. This is due to the massive migration, which includes many Syrians, and leaves a great gap of available personnel and specialists able to respond to the growing demand of care.
The lack of midwives, among others, is an example that illustrates the collapse of the country’s health system. Today in Syria, there are about 300,000 pregnant women that are not able to receive appropriate pre-natal treatment.4. Lack of medicines/drugs
Many pharmaceutical companies and drugs storage centers have been destroyed. The infrastructures that were not affected have also stopped working with regularity due to the serious shortage of skilled human resources and raw materials.
The lack of drugs and medical equipment affects all the population, but in particular puts at risk the health, and in some cases the life, of people suffering from chronic diseases, and who need continuous care and treatment.
From the beginning of the Syrian Civil War in 2011 to 2013, life expectancy in Syria fell by six years. In 2010, men and women were expected to live to 75 and 80 respectively, but the estimate changed in 2013 to only until 69 and 75 by 2013. Infant deaths in the country rose by 9.1% over the same period.
5. Embargoes and sanctions on Syria
Embargoes and sanctions on Syria only aggravate more the situation. Officially, the restrictions shouldn’t affect humanitarian aid but, in reality, sanctions have prevented the entry of essential medical supplies and of spare parts to fix medical equipment into the country. Given the possible double use (health and military), these supplies and equipment are not allowed to enter the country.
6. The economic difficulties of health
The lack of contributions, both public and private, makes it almost impossible for hospitals to respond adequately to the needs of the entire population. The poorest are the most affected because they are not able to bear the costs of proper medical treatment.
7. Epidemic risk
The basic health services in serious conditions and the difficulties to access clean water, energy and sanitation services might lead Syria into an outbreak of diseases linked to water.
8. Working to face the crisis
This year, responding to an appeal made by the current Apostolic Nuncio to Syria, Cardinal Mario Zenari, AVSI Foundation has decided to support economically the work of 3 private non-profit hospitals in Syria. Two are located in Damascus and the other one in Aleppo.
9. The three hospitals supported in Syria
AVSI will raise funds for The Italian Hospital and St. Louis Hospital, in Damascus, and for the St. Louis Hospital in Aleppo. These three health centers were chosen because they have the ability to offer high-level services in all medical specializations.
Currently, these three hospitals are operating at half their capacity, in spite of the growing need of the population in both cities. AVSI’s project aims to increase the availability of bed space by 90%, 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.
10. What can I do to help?
With your donation, we can support those who are in Syria working closely with the population in order to meet the most immediate needs of the innocent victims of this senseless war. AVSI launched a campaign to help three non-profit and private hospitals in Aleppo and Damascus in order to guarantee access to health to the poorest, the children, the single mothers and the wounded.
If you donate $50 today, we will be able to take care of one patient for one day. But mainly we will be able to give this person hope and the priceless notion that he/she is not facing this war alone.
Help us. Donate now to Syria.
Anton Barbu, responsible for AVSI’s activities in Syria, talks about the children of Damascus in this interview with the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera: “Every day, I leave my house at around 7:30 to go to AVSI’s office in Damascus. It’s a ten-minute walk. On my way, I encounter at least 30 children sleeping on the sidewalk.”
How is the current situation in Syria?
I have recently spoken with a father who lives in #Aleppo. He described heartbreaking scenes: children wondering around the rubble because their families have either left town or can no longer take care of them. But also in Damascus the situation has deteriorated. Every time I stop at a traffic light, I’m “surrounded” by many children trying to sell whatever they have, most of the time stacks of tissues.
Is there a future for Syrian children?
In Europe we say that children are the future. In Syria, they are the present, in the sense that at least 2 million children are currently living a daily drama in areas difficult to reach.
Do you think in Damascus a child suffer less than in Aleppo?
If we really want to say that, I guess we can. At least in Damascus, children have a sidewalk to sleep on. In Aleppo, not even that.
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