Assessing the Ongoing Health Crisis in Syria


ALEPPO, Syria — Even as the Syrian army, with help from Russian forces, took over the country’s largest city Aleppo from the rebels who had been holding it since 2012, the attention of the world was on the monumental health crisis in Syria. In Aleppo alone, of the 5,000 physicians working before the war began, only 36 remain.

According to the World Health Organization, approximately two-thirds of the hospitals and clinics in Syria have been destroyed in the ongoing war. This wanton destruction and the subsequent movement of millions of Syrians has led to the return of previously eradicated diseases like polio, cholera, typhoid, hepatitis and parasitic infections.

The manufacture of medicines and vaccines has dropped 75 percent since 2010. Of great concern are the medical needs of those suffering from long-term conditions like asthma and diabetes which require regular doses of the given medicines, contributing majorly to the health crisis in Syria.

The trauma caused by conflict has also led to severe mental health issues among children and adults. According to the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA), the number of people seeking mental healthcare is increasing, especially those suffering from depression, anxiety, psychosis and stress-related conditions. Current estimates are that 600,000 people are living with severe mental illness in Syria. UNOCHA estimates that only 10 percent of primary healthcare centers provide basic mental health services

Before the civil war broke out four years ago, Syria’s health system Syria was in good shape. The country had been making impressive strides in offering healthcare services to its people, had five functioning medical schools, a National Health and Medication Plan and 37 medical libraries. The life expectancy of the average Syrian in 2012 was 75.7 years, significantly higher than the 1970 average of 56 years. The civil war has reversed this trend with average life expectancy slipping 20 years from the 2012 level.

There are organizations doing great work to alleviate the harsh conditions for thousands of Syrians. Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF/Doctors Without Borders) operates six health facilities in the north of Syria, even though it has had difficulties acquiring authorization to work in the troubled country. Other nonprofits like Islamic Relief USA and International Medical Corps are contributing aid to keep Syria’s basic healthcare system functional.

Then, there are brave and committed individuals who keep pegging away behind the scenes. The Huffington Post listed a few of them including Dr. Annie Sparrow, associate professor and deputy director of the human rights program at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, who works on the Turkish-Syrian border, documenting the health crisis and training Syrian medical workers. It also named Fouad M. Fouad, who was a general surgeon in Aleppo. Since leaving the country in 2012, he has been working at the American University of Beirut, focusing on health crises related to the conflict. It is the efforts of volunteers and organizations like these that will help the war-torn country heal. Donate.

It is the efforts of volunteers and organizations like these that will help the war-torn country heal. With so many millions needlessly displaced and put at risk, this immediate relief is vital for the survival of families and communities until the conflict can be resolved and Syria can begin rebuilding.

Mallika Khanna

Photo: Flickr


About Author

Mallika Khanna

Mallika lives in Hartford, CT. She is originally from Delhi, India. Her academic interests include English literature and International Studies. Mallika is working on being tri-lingual!

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