AMMAN: When Umm Baraa, 23, found out she was pregnant early last year, her first reaction was one of fear.
The southwest Damascus suburb of Darayya, where Umm Baraa lives with her husband, has been encircled by regime forces since late 2012. The city has no access to prenatal medicine or physicians specializing in maternal health.
“After the regime tightened its siege of Darayya in 2015, the last Ob/Gyn in the area left,” Umm Baraa, Arabic for mother of Baraa, told Syria Direct on Monday.
“This made me really scared because doctors with no experience were handling deliveries,” said the first-time mother.
Umm Baraa gave birth to a healthy baby boy last November. The challenge then became one of keeping her son healthy in a city with no access to vaccines, few antibiotics, little baby formula, and two pediatricians for 12,000 residents.
“This whole process has been more emotionally tiring than physically tiring,” said Umm Baraa. “We wouldn’t have made it without the help of my family.”
A child in Darayya earlier this month. Photo courtesy of Darayya Local Council.
More than 600 children have been born in Darayya since the regime encircled the strategic town, located next to a regime military airport, in 2012, Dia al-Ahmar, one of the city’s two pediatricians, told Syria Direct on Monday.
“I attend to more than 20 sick kids per day—we just treat them as best we can given our resources,” said al-Ahmar.
Malnourishment is the cause of most illnesses in young children in Darayya because there is “very little baby formula in the city,” said al-Ahmar. Most mothers do not breastfeed because they are “malnourished themselves,” he added.
“Children get sick because they are given cow’s or goat’s milk, which causes intestinal issues and severe diarrhea. The resulting dehydration can lead to death,” the doctor said.
Although there are no available statistics, al-Ahmar said that the infant mortality rate in Darayya has “increased drastically” since the start of the siege. The city has no neonatal intensive care units used to treat children who are born prematurely, and no medicine for the treatment of chronic and long-term illnesses such as cancer.
“We can only treat their symptoms,” said al-Ahmar, referring to cancer patients.
Darayya is classified as a “Tier 1 siege” according to the independent monitor Siege Watch. Tier 1 represents “the highest level of siege… where the UN is able to negotiate few, if any, aid deliveries” and “residents are at a high risk of malnutrition/dehydration and denial of medical care,” according to the Siege Watch website.
Since 2012, more than 6,600 regime barrel bombs have fallen on Darayya. The scale of the destruction is reminiscent of post-war Dresden, as seen in Russian drone footage shot in late January.
Darayya residents have staged several protests in recent months calling on the United Nations to deliver aid, including much-needed vaccinations and medicine to the besieged city.
One of the terms of the “cessation of hostilities” brokered by the United States and Russia this past February stipulates that both Syrian regime forces and opposition groups “allow immediate humanitarian assistance to reach all people in need.”
A UN delegation visited Darayya on Saturday April 16, but did not deliver aid.
“The delegation said they could not bring aid into the city without the regime’s approval,” local council member Mohamed Shahada told Syria Direct at the time.