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HELL ON EARTH: Syria's medical infrastructure collapses during hostilities

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
September 18th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

As a two-year-old civil war obliterates the nation of Syria's infrastructure, medical care is meager if not non-existent in many regions. Horror stories have emerged of injuries left untended, women giving birth with no medical care and patients battling cancer, diabetes and heart disease left with nowhere to turn.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Syria's once sophisticated health system is "at breaking point." Parts of Syria are completely cut off from any kind of medical service due "deliberate and systematic attacks" on medical facilities and staff, senior doctors say.

Fifty-five medical professionals from across the world have made the situation clear in a joint letter in The Lancet medical journal. More than half of Syria's hospitals have been destroyed or badly damaged in attacks. Doctors run scarce as nearly 470 health professionals have been imprisoned. About 15,000 doctors have been forced to flee abroad.

"Such attacks are an unconscionable betrayal of the principle of medical neutrality," wrote the doctors. Among the group are Gro Harlem Brundtland, former director-general of the World Health Organization and Hany El Banna, founder of the Humanitarian Forum and Islamic Relief.

Only 36 remain of the previous 5,000 physicians in the city of Aleppo. Syrians are providing the bulk of medical care, struggling in the face of massive need and dangerous conditions.

"Over half a million people have been injured and Syrians are undergoing (caesarian) sections and amputations without anesthetic. It's hell on earth," El Banna said in a separate statement.

"I am very concerned by the deliberate and systematic attacks on medical facilities and personnel in Syria," Brundtland added in the statement.

Exacerbating the situation is that the government is refusing visas for aid personnel entering the country, and rebel groups are blocking medical supply convoys, Brundtland said. Coupled with the inflexibility and bureaucracy in the international aid system the situation is only growing worse.
 
"Syria is almost certainly the most dangerous place in the world to be a doctor," Fatima Hamroush, another signatory and former minister of health in the Libyan transitional government and consultant ophthalmologist, added in the statement.

"There is no acceptable reason why full unimpeded access for all doctors needed into Syria should not be granted immediately to prevent further medical catastrophe," she said.

"As doctors and health professionals we urgently demand that medical colleagues in Syria be allowed and supported to treat patients, save lives, and alleviate suffering without the fear of attacks or reprisals," the letter said.

"We call on the United Nations and international donors to increase support to Syrian medical networks, in both government and opposition areas, where, since the beginning of the conflict, health professionals have been risking their lives to provide essential services."

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