Northeast Syria: COVID- 19 causing dire strains on health services

Medical team treating child at Al-Hol camp, Northeast Syria Medical team treating child at Al-Hol camp, Northeast Syria World Health Organization/WHO EMRO

27 August 2020

Al-Hol camp with “almost no healthcare available” at risk of outbreak as COVID – 19 cases grow in northeast Syria and among health workers

According to Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) emergency manager for Syria, Will Turner, the first positive case of COVID-19 of a resident within the camp has been confirmed. About 1,900 civilians within the camp with non-communicable diseases, such as diabetes and asthma, are deemed particularly vulnerable to COVID-19. MSF has insisted that the camp is not well prepared for an outbreak.

As of early August, there are now just 15 healthcare clinics in the camp, compared to 24 in May. However, only five of these clinics are operational at present. Turner describes the devastating consequences of these closures, saying that there were reports of “(…) mothers going from clinic to clinic in a desperate search for somewhere that was open”. As a result, “in just one week in August, seven children died, all under the age of five.”

On 24 August, there were 394 confirmed cases in the region. MSF has declared that transmission rates are particularly high, as around half of tests carried out return positive.

Healthcare staff have become limited in the camp, as there have been earlier cases of COVID-19 among them. Healthcare staff count for nearly a fifth of the positive tests taken in the region. This means that other staff who have been in contact with them are also not able to work as they are required to quarantine for a period of time. Local authorities have introduced new regulations that prohibit staff from working in more than one health facility in the region in order to prevent further transmission.

In addition, MSF has recorded an increased 71 percent of admissions to their inpatient therapeutic feeding centre located within the camp since July. This is due to an ongoing outbreak of diarrhoea, causing malnutrition, especially in young people and children. Sonia Khush, Syria Response Director for Save the Children has expressed that “Sadly there will be more cases (…) This will be a children's crisis by any measure (…), As many as 43,000 children will be impacted by an outbreak in the camp. We are concerned about their stigmatisation and their weakened immune systems (…).”


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Author: Catherine Gregoire; Editor: Sara Gorelli

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