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Diseases spread in Syria as medicine becomes scarce

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
February 6th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

In strife-torn Syria, if gunfire from rebels or government forces doesn't fell you first, diseases will. Water-borne diseases have become increasing rife in this embattled Middle Eastern nation. Medicine is scarce, many doctors have fled for their lives and hospitals are in ruins.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - The nation's infrastructure has been considerably weakened after nearly two years of fighting, the World Health Organization reports. The Syrian Health Ministry has run out of trauma treatments to help the increasing numbers of burn victims and wounded civilians in intensive care units.

"The biggest concern for us is the breakdown of the water and sanitation system and the increasing numbers of water-borne diseases," WHO Representative Elisabeth Hoff told journalists.

Hepatitis A, a viral liver disease that can cause explosive epidemics, has been reported in Aleppo and Idlib. Crowded shelters for the homeless in Damascus have also been affected, she said.

Aid groups have had to start using alternatives to purify water because the import of chlorine gas has been banned over fears it could be misused as a chemical weapon. The UN Children's Fund has begun importing sodium hydrochloride, a liquid used for water purification through Jordan.

With the government forces of President Bashar al-Assad and rebels trying to unseat him, the critically ill could swell the ranks of the four million.

"The catastrophic humanitarian crisis continues to deepen," Jens Laerke, spokesman of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says.

"We are operating mostly out of government-controlled areas, that don't mean we don't deliver in opposition-controlled areas. Frontlines are changing, it is fluid situation," he said.

Hoff said she had visited a burns hospital in the capital which receives patients from all over the country. "These explosions are taking place and hitting into highly populated areas. You see a number of children and women with serious burns," she said.

Hoff said the government could not access a factory in Aleppo that produces serum to help such trauma patients, because the road is controlled by the opposition.

"The factory has the serum which is needed for operations, for trauma and for injured, but they cannot access it because three kilometers of the road between the factory and the city is totally controlled by the opposition," Hoff said.

Syrian military planes carrying doses of vaccine against measles and polio were shot at last week in Aleppo, she said.

"So we are now trying to see how we can set up a convoy and negotiate also with the opposition to try to get this in, not only to the public hospitals but also to the non-governmental organizations," she said.

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