DAMASCUS, Syria – The Syrian government is withholding healthcare from all citizens associated with opposition to its regime.
Ill and injured citizens of areas controlled by the Syrian opposition to the regime are being denied healthcare on what, according to the Independent International Commission of Inquiry, the Syrian government refers to as “a matter of policy.” Care of previously-admitted patients in opposition-occupied areas has also been discontinued.
“The discriminatory denial of the right to health as a weapon of war has been a chilling feature of this conflict,” Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, chairman of the IICI, said to the Human Rights Council in Geneva.
Women are forced to give birth without aid. Patients battling lethal diseases are deprived of care that could save their lives. Injured soldiers are left suffering from battle wounds.
The Guardian reports that a measles outbreak is quickly spreading through northern Syria, and that cases of diarrhea are becoming more numerous throughout the country. Most people suffering from these ailments completely lack access to medical assistance. In an open letter to The Lancet, 55 doctors, including three Nobel Prize recipients, spoke out against the Syrian regime’s dismantling of the healthcare system.
“We are appalled by the lack of access to healthcare for affected civilians,” the doctors wrote. “It is our professional, ethical and moral duty to provide treatment and care to anyone in need. When we cannot do so personally, we are obliged to speak out in support of those risking their lives to provide life-saving assistance.”
The regime has not only withheld healthcare from anyone associated with the rebel movement, but has also made a number of strategic strikes on medical facilities in rebel-occupied regions of the country. In a presentation given to the Human Rights Council, the IICI cited, among numerous other incidents, an attack on Al Hada private hospital in Damascus. The hospital held a maternity ward and an emergency trauma care unit. It also housed wounded soldiers. According to the IICI, the attack originated from what eyewitnesses believe is a government military base.
Many similar attacks have occurred throughout Syria. The World Health Organization reports that one-third of Syria’s hospitals have been demolished and many more have been severely damaged. Along with facilities, medical personnel have become prime targets of the regime. The regime has arrested, and even killed, medical professionals. The regime has even hi-jacked ambulances and kidnapped drivers enroute to emergency sites. According to the open letter addressed to The Lancet, 469 Syria medical professionals are imprisoned, while 15,000 have fled the country. The doctors who composed the letter are outraged and urge the Syrian government to spare innocent people from the violence.
“To alleviate the effect on civilians of this conflict and of the deliberate attacks on the healthcare system, and to support our medical colleagues, we call on the Syrian government and all armed parties to refrain from attacking hospitals, ambulances, medical facilities and supplies, health professionals and patients,” the letter says.
Although foreign intervention has been stalled for the time-being, the inner conflict in Syria has no foreseeable end. Innocent people are suffering at the hands of a regime that has hi-jacked the healthcare system and turned it into a weapon. The signatories who composed the letter to The Lancet remind the Syrian regime that neutral healthcare is a moral imperative in the hopes of rescuing people without access to lifesaving medical assistance.
“The targeted attacks on medical facilities and personnel are deliberate and systematic, not an inevitable nor acceptable consequence of armed conflict,” the letter says. “Such attacks are an unconscionable betrayal of the principle of medical neutrality.”
– Matt Berg