Doctor: Barrel bombs, air raids cause ‘most’ amputations

May 5, 2015

More than 220,000 Syrians have died in the war, a number does not include an important and often forgotten group of victims: Those who have suffered life-altering injuries in the course of the war.

The Syrian National Project for Prosthetics, founded by a group of Syrian doctors living outside the country and funded by foreign-based Syrian relief organizations (Syrian Relief from the UK, the Syrian Medical Expatriate Association in France, Every Syrian) provides prosthetic limbs and the necessary accompanying operations for Syrians maimed by the violence.

“Barrel bombs and aerial bombings cause most of the injuries,” the project’s director, Doctor Ans al-Anjari, tells Syria Direct’s Noura Hourani, noting that “in the last two years we’ve received 1,800 patients.”

Al-Anjari explained that the project, which has one clinic in Turkey serving Aleppo province and another in Syria’s Idlib province, faces a host of financial and logistical challenges in providing their services, in addition to the dangerous operating environment that arises from working in a war zone.

“Most amputations are necessarily performed quickly by the first aid responders, who are not prepared for these difficult operations,” al-Anjari says. “And so we often face difficulties in stabilizing the limb because the amputation was performed incorrectly.”

Q: You have opened a branch in the Idlib countryside. Does this cover the demand that you face in the governorate as a whole?

Our branch, which we opened in the town of Hizano, only covers 15 percent of our work. We would try to expand our work in Syria and decrease our work in Turkey if we were able to provide a safe place. We chose Hizano because it is a safe area and we are able to get there relatively easily.

A doctor shakes hand with the young recipient of a prosthetic arm. Photo courtesy of National Syrian Project for Prosthetic Limbs

Q: What does your center provide for the injured?

We provide orthotic and prosthetic services to try to compensate for loss of limbs, both upper and lower. We also have support groups for the sick and orthotontic devices and physical therapy before, during, and after implementation of the prosthetic limb.

The most important challenge we face is getting the injured to come to us, for us to find those we can help, and financial shortfalls. There are also problems with the amputated limbs that we see, such as an amputation conducted by first aid workers who are not experienced.

Q: How is the project supported, seeing that prosthetic limbs are costly?

Despite the high cost of prosthetic limbs, we produce and assemble the prosthetics and Syrians do everything, which has been instrumental in driving the cost down. Our costs are a quarter of what it would cost if one were to buy the prosthetic from the private sector. They cost us $500, but we present them for free to those who need them.

Q: What about regions under regime control or government clinics, do your serve the citizens in these areas?

We do not serve these areas. A while ago, however, there was some communication with some civilian organizations in areas under regime control concerning with helping them and founding a center. There were problems concerning government stipulations.

Q: Describe what the injured experience during this process.

Barrel bombs or aerial bombing cause most of the injuries, and most amputations are performed out of necessity quickly by the first aid responders, who are not prepared for these difficult operations.

We often face difficulties in stabilizing the limb because the amputation was performed incorrectly. These procedures can have a profound psychological effect on the injured especially on children. There is still, however, optimism and hope on the part of most of the injured, despite the fact that they require psychological support and rehabilitation.

Q: What are some of the things that you would like to do in the future that you are unable to do now?

As a humanitarian medical team, we want to create a humanitarian medical corridor that affords us a greater capacity to work in Syria and reach all those that are in need of help, wherever they may be.


Noura Hourani

Noura Hourani studied English Literature at Tishreen University and previously worked as a private English tutor. She left Syria at the beginning of the conflict.

James Bowker

James Bowker graduated from Tufts University in 2013 with a double major in Arabic Language & Middle Eastern Studies. He has previously worked with the Council on International Educational Exchange (CIEE) study-abroad program and as a remote translator for the Article 25 Right to Health campaign.