By: Ava Torjani
On Saturday, November 19th 2016, the last functioning hospital in east Aleppo was destroyed by airstrikes, leaving more than 250,000 civilians with no access to healthcare including surgery, trauma care, and consultations.
The distressing news was confirmed by the World Health Organization (WHO) representative in Syria, Elizabeth Hoff, who stated that “All hospitals in eastern Aleppo are out of service.” This was one of more than 30 different attacks since early July 2016 including those that resulted in the destruction of two general hospitals providing trauma care in the warzone and the only children’s hospital within the region. Undoubtedly, dire health consequences lie ahead for all remaining residents.
According to the non-governmental humanitarian-aid organization, Doctors Without Borders, the number of medical staff and supplies have significantly reduced with “no possibility of sending more supplies in,” leaving the city with no more than 2 weeks’ worth of medicine and food. One doctor vividly described the detrimental impact of the lack of healthcare workers. He discusses the story of a child who died after not receiving a surgery that could have easily been performed by any pediatric surgeon. Moreover, given the combination of chronic stress and lack of vaccine supplies induced by many years of war, children are found to have weakened immune systems that have led to multiple cases of otherwise preventable diseases such as measles, polio, and meningitis. Furthermore, according to an emergency room nurse, Abu Al Motassem, children have no access to food essential for healthy growth such as formula one milk or breast milk, causing them to become malnourished which consequently invokes a vicious cascade of diseases.
These disastrous repercussions have evoked great distress among external governments and health authorities, leading to a series of proposals to resolve this matter. Sadly, hardly any proposed solutions became a reality. After each airstrike, health and rescue workers have strived to restore the damaged hospitals—a task that has been made increasingly difficult due to a shortage of supplies. Meanwhile, the U.N representative of Syria, Staffan de Mustara, personally confronted the government to request a ceasefire and a safe entry of humanitarian aid, only to be rejected because opposing rebel groups supported the solution. Consequently, civilians’ health is left in the hands of the remaining understaffed medical and rescue workers who are working extremely hard despite the harsh conditions. For now, healthcare has shifted from hospitals to basements where patients are sheltered from airstrikes, yet the environment is unsterile for safe and effective treatment.
All in all, it is evident that the destruction of hospitals in east Aleppo has resulted in an increased risk of infectious diseases and ultimately, death. It is also clear that improvements in healthcare can only be achieved through the establishment of an effective and stable political solution. Although the frequent attempts of organizations, such as the U.N, for a temporary truce have repeatedly failed, it is important to remain persistent in trying to improve healthcare for the sake of preserving over a quarter million lives.
It is also clear that improvements in healthcare can only be achieved through the establishment of an effective and stable political solution.