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As UN Security Council negotiations continue over disarming Syria’s chemical weapons there’s a growing consensus among aid agencies that there must also be a humanitarian resolution on aid access in Syria.
Around ten million Syrians are estimated to need humanitarian assistance as widespread disease outbreaks and food shortages compound the situation in the battle-scarred country.
And with 60 per cent of Syrian hospitals destroyed or damaged and medical staff being targeted, leading many to flee, the country’s healthcare infrastructure is struggling to cope. This is further compounded due to challenges in reaching a huge amount of Syrians because of government restrictions on cross-border assistance, especially to opposition-controlled areas.
“Much more needs to be done to ensure people inside Syria receive healthcare,” says Leigh Daynes, Executive Director of Doctors of the World UK. “We are one of the few charities with doctors and medical centres inside Syria but needs are immense. Improved access is absolutely essential to saving lives and treated the wounded, especially to opposition-held areas, which are being denied essential medical supplies.”
Since October 2012, Doctors of the World has worked with Syrian nurses and doctors in camps established by displaced Syrians in the North Idlib area, near the Turkish border, carrying out more than 27,000 consultations this year alone. The continued fighting coupled with the poor state of Syria’s healthcare infrastructure have forced agencies such as Doctors of the World that are able to work inside the country to further step up their work.
“We are ready for any escalation in the conflict,” says Leigh Daynes. “We have prepared emergency medical supplies – including primary healthcare kits, surgical material, equipment for conducting caesarean section deliveries, and chemical weapon decontamination stock – to treat injured civilians. The only obstacle in our way is the fighting, which must cease immediately so that we can reach and treat all those in need.”
With funding from the UK's Department for International Development – who have committed half a billion pounds to Syria – Doctors of the World also runs a post-operative and rehabilitation centre at the Syrian-Turkish border which ensures follow-ups with patients who've been operated on elsewhere for trauma injuries, such as neurological and spinal cord injuries, amputations and bone fractures. The charity supports a network of doctors and volunteers throughout the country by sending them essential medicines, equipment and surgery kits.
These groups and individuals are risking their lives on a daily basis as they operate on the wounded and take care of the sick in improvised health centres.
“A field hospital is basically a room, 15-20 metre-squared, with very simple equipment,” says a doctor in Damascus supported by Doctors of the World. “Doctors cannot give all the care needed there and perform some simple operations to get out bullets and pieces of bombs, just to keep the wounded people alive. Then, we try to find another place that can take care of the patients more efficiently, which has better equipment.”
But while amazing work is being done inside Syria, the situation as it remains cannot continue and this week UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon urged both sides of the Syrian conflict to allow medical staff in Syria to effectively reach and treat the wounded.
“I call on the Syrian Government and the opposition to uphold their obligations under international humanitarian and human rights law,” he said in a speech to the UN General Assembly in New York. “They must lift all obstacles to humanitarian access, and end the unconscionable targeting of medical facilities and personnel."
This call is echoed by aid agencies on the ground as better access, combined with continued funding, is crucial to ensuring as many Syrians are helped as possible. Far too many people have needlessly lost their lives already.
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