How is COVID-19 affecting the population of warn-torn countries?

Women with medical masks in camps in Syrian Idlib. Women with medical masks in camps in Syrian Idlib. AAref Watad/AFP

19 March 2020

As the pandemic worsens, there is growing concern on how Syria and Yemen would cope with the emergency

On 11 March, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the coronavirus outbreak a global pandemic. Countries are struggling all over the world to cope with the new infectious disease as global death toll surpasses 10.000. The virus appears to be more dangerous for the most vulnerable portions of the population such as elderly and people with pre-existing health conditions. Similarly, it is expected to affect harsher those countries with weaker healthcare systems such as the ones affected by war.

In Syria, a country that just entered the 10th year of armed conflict, no cases of COVID-19 have been officially recorded. Nevertheless, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported outbreaks in the cities of Tartous, Damascus, Homs and Latkia, saying that government authorities are banning medical personnel from releasing this information. There is growing fear of the spread of the disease, considering the already dire conditions in which civilians live in. There are only 50 functioning hospitals in the whole of Syria and millions live in refugee camps in the Northwest where containment measures would be impossible to implement. Moreover, Syria remains the only country still allowing flights from Iran, considered the regional epicentre of the outbreak with more than 1.500 deaths recorded.

Similarly in Yemen, a country in war since 2014, there have been officially no confirmed cases. The WHO reports that only a couple of hundred tests are currently available in the country. Yemeni health system would be unable to cope with the emergency, in a country were cholera, starvation, dengue, malaria and poor sanitation are widespread and where 80% of the population relies on humanitarian aid. Contrary to Syria, government-controlled parts of Yemen have closed their land borders and airports. The lack of official reports in the two countries could be due to lack of testing, deliberate misinformation as well as the limited number of people travelling to the countries.


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Author: Annette Savoca

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