Syria’s civil conflict has left the country’s health system so severely crippled that some patients are “opting to be knocked out with metal bars for lack of anaesthesia,” a new report by the Save the Children charity says.
The report, A Devastating Toll, looks at the impact of three years of war on the health of the country’s children.
“We received a little girl with critical injuries; we could do nothing but wait for her to die because we didn’t have the equipment or the medicines. Till now I can’t remove her face from my mind,” said one health worker identified in the report only as Anas.
This is more than a crisis. It is the threatened collapse of an entire health system, which endangers the lives and well-being of millions of children.
Save the Children said all the names of health workers, children and parents had been changed to protect their identities.
The charity said more than 10,000 young lives had been lost as a direct result of the violence.
Syrian officials were not immediately available to comment.
“The extent of the decline in Syria’s health system is demonstrated in many horrific ways, including children having limbs amputated because the clinics they present to don’t have necessary equipment to treat them,” the report said.
It added: “Newborn babies [are] dying in their incubators due to power cuts; in some cases, patients [are] opting to be knocked out with metal bars for lack of anaesthesia; parents [are] arriving at hospital to find no medical staff and hooking up children themselves to intravenous drips.”
Children’s lives in Syria are on the line before they are even born, the report said, with about 4.3 million children in need of humanitarian assistance.
The conflict, which has killed over 140,000 people and forced at least 1.2 million children to flee their country, began in March 2011 as a protest movement against President Bashar al Assad’s government. It has since degenerated into a civil war, sucking in neighbouring countries that oppose or support the regime and the rebels fighting it.
“Since the outbreak of war three years ago, it is probable that several thousands of children have already died as a result of greatly reduced access to treatment for life-threatening chronic diseases like cancer, epilepsy, asthma, diabetes, hypertension and kidney failure,” it said.
“This is more than a crisis. It is the threatened collapse of an entire health system, which endangers the lives and well-being of millions of children.”
Vaccine programmes in Syria have collapsed, with a peacetime coverage rate of 91 percent falling to 68 percent just a year after the conflict began, said the charity.
It said this rate was likely to be far lower today, adding that deadly diseases like measles and meningitis, practically unheard of in the years before the conflict, were on the rise.
Even polio, which was eradicated across Syria in 1995, the report adds, is now being carried by up to 80,000 children across the country.
This figure, the charity said, is so high that medical experts have raised concerns about a potential international spread of the virus.