Medcins Sans Frontiers (Doctors without borders) first brought to our attention in February that wounded in Syria were being denied medical aid and those medical personnel that attempted to administer medical treatment were doing so at the risk of torture or death to themselves and their families, that situation has not changed. See News Blaze story Medical personnel at risk of torture and arrest in Syria, Feb 10 2012.
Despite months of pleading to the Syrian authorities directly or through intermediates Medcins Sans Frontiers have still not been allowed access to work with medical personnel within the worst areas of the Syrian governorates most affected by violence.
Doggedly MSF have been visiting parts of Syria, and after reaching Homs they managed to enter the Idlib Governorate, where medical teams found patients and doctors still at risk of attack incarceration and torture.
One orthopaedic surgeon they met in a village in Idlib Governorate said, “The atmosphere in most medical facilities is extremely tense; healthcare workers send wounded patients home and provide only first aid so that facilities can be evacuated quickly in the event of a military operation, being caught with patients is like being caught with a weapon.”
Marie-Noelle Rodrigue, Sans Frontiers director of operations in Paris said, “A number of Syrian colleges are reported to be missing. The authorities and all parties to the conflict must ensure that medical workers can operate without fear of retribution and that wounded people can safely seek and receive immediate life-saving care, without resorting to inadequate improvised clinics for fear of arrest, or worse.”
Due to the lack of authorisation to work in the country, Medcins Sans Frontieres has only a limited view of the medical situation in Syria, but information obtained in Idlib is consistent with what they witnessed in Homs.
“We saw militarised health care facilities, meaning that access to medical care depends on which side you belong,” said Brice de le Vingne MSF director of operation in Brussels. “Health facilities are being targeted, thus endangering patients and preventing health care workers from doing their jobs, health facilities and pharmacies are looted and destroyed.”
Regardless of the short time MSF was in the Idlib area they managed to perform some emergency medical work, this is what one MSF surgeon said, “In one public hospital we worked as hard as we could for three days straight, we operated on 15 wounded people and then had to pack everything up in 10 minutes after being notified of an imminent attack.
Elsewhere in the Idlib region, an operating room was closed because it was simply too dangerous to perform surgery on wounded patients, Doctors were threatened and they discouraged us from setting up a medical facility because the situation was too risky, another hospital had been destroyed.
You can see medical equipment and supplies, sometimes the resources and infrastructure are there but the fear and risks of capture are so great that Doctors hesitate to treat patients.”
Medcins Sans Frontieres continues to support networks of Doctors in Homs, Derah, Hama, Damascus and Idlib, delivering supplies and medicines from neighbouring countries they are also treating people that were wounded or tortured in Syria, at a surgical hospital in Amman, Jordan and continue to supply primary health care and physiological support to Syrian refugees in Lebanon.
Reiterating its call for authorisation to work inside Syria, the organisation stands ready to rapidly mobilise its medical and surgical teams and is unwavering in its labours to operate independently, providing care to anyone requiring it.
Despite the lack of effective ceasefire or sustainable political solution, all parties to the conflict must fully respect the physical integrity of wounded persons, doctors and healthcare facilities, Medcins Sans Frontieres said and it calls for increased political and diplomatic efforts to ensure the safety of patients and medical workers, without the use of force.