Middle East

Targeting of doctors and hospitals leading to medical crisis

File - A man walks through a room at Dar Al Shifa Hospital, damaged in yesterday's Syrian Air force air strike, in the Sha'aar neighbourhood of Aleppo August 15, 2012.(Goran Tomasevic/Reuters)

BEIRUT: At least 300 medics have been killed by government forces in Syria, according to a new report from the anti-regime group the Syrian Network for Human Rights.

The deliberate targeting of doctors and hospitals by the regime of President Bashar Assad is increasing, the report says, leading to “a severe shortage of medical capabilities all over Syria.”

“Also, a lot of the wounded are dying in front of their families due to the lack of any medical care,” the report adds.

A report by the global NGO Physicians for Human Rights, issued earlier this month, backs these claims but puts the deaths even higher, at 440, and attributes the violence to both the regime and opposition.

A further 3,270 medical workers have been arrested, including 650 doctors, according to the SN4HR report. An unknown number have been released, however.

While in detention, medical workers are tortured to an even greater extent than other prisoners, the report says, as they are accused of “treating terrorists.” At least 31 medics have been tortured to death.

Around 227 hospitals have been shelled and looted by the regime, with many turned into military stations. Field hospitals have also become completely overwhelmed, the report says.

As for violations by groups opposed to the Assad regime, the onetime Al-Qaeda affiliate, the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) has also raided several field hospitals and “abducted wounded without any consideration to their health status.”

The SN4HR accuses the government of committing war crimes and urges the opposition to better monitor and condemn violations across the territories it controls.

The Physicians for Human Rights report corroborates this evidence, saying that both government and opposition forces have deliberately destroyed hospitals, field clinics, ambulances and medical supplies.

“These crimes against the principle of medical neutrality – which ensures safe access to medical facilities, protects health care workers and their patients, and allows medical workers to provide unbiased care – have compounded the suffering of civilians and hastened the devastation of an already fragile health care system,” the report states.

In the first 10 weeks of 2014, the Physicians for Human Rights report says, 20 attacks on medical facilities were reported, and as of April 2013, 37 percent of hospitals were out of service and a further 20 percent partially damaged.

In addition to those medical staff killed – which the NGO says includes 161 doctors, 90 nurses, 83 medics and 45 pharmacists – at least 15,000 doctors have fled the country, the report adds.

The Eastern Ghouta suburbs of Damascus had 1,000 doctors before the conflict started; in December this figure had fallen to 30.

Links to reports:



A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on April 25, 2014, on page 8.




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