The impact of ten years of war over health facilities in Syria

 Destroyed buildings, Aleppo, Syria Destroyed buildings, Aleppo, Syria Photo by Aladdin Hammami on Unsplash

02 March 2021

In the Syrian war, health facilities have always been under attack and the health system is facing collapse.

The world marks ten years of conflict in Syria and the impact of the war on health facilities has since the very beginning been devastating. Hospitals and clinics turned from places of shelter to danger zones as fighting between armed rebels and government forces, backed by Russia and Iran, repeatedly targeted healthcare centers. The most worrying consequence of these indiscriminate attacks has been an acute shortage of resources and medical facilities. 

According to a report of the International Rescue Committee (IRC), almost 60% of the interviewed civilians directly suffered from an attack on a healthcare facility and an estimated 70% of the health staff has left the country, since they were obliged to work in a climate of violence and without adequate equipment, leaving Syrians with a low number of doctors per capita, namely one doctor for 10,000 civilians. The non-governmental organization (NGO) Physicians for Human Rights has documented 595 attacks on healthcare in Syria since 2011, and the IRC documented at least 24 attacks, since 2019 to date, on its own programmes in northwest Syria, where the United Nations (UN) reported that 50% of medical facilities are no longer functioning. For instance, Idlib province, which is now the real focus of the conflict where government-led offensives have pushed back opposition forces, has a significantly damaged health system that is unable to cope with the Covid-19 pandemic.  

As a result, the effects of a decade of attacks on medical infrastructure has led twelve millions of Syrians to live without adequate health assistance. Facilities and services have been devastated and the lack of medicines has exacerbated the situation. As attacks on medical facilities are a war crime, the UN asked for the respect of the principle of “medical neutrality” to facilitate humanitarian aid and medical assistance. Nevertheless, even if international recognition of these systematic attacks on health care in Syria has grown, clear accountability is still lacking.  

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Author: Eleonora Gonnelli; Editor: Benedetta Spizzichino

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