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Hospitals ‘a ready and permanent target’ in Syria’s north

AMMAN: Doctors with the Syrian Expatriate Medical Association (SEMA) have […]

26 August 2015

AMMAN: Doctors with the Syrian Expatriate Medical Association (SEMA) have removed a brain tumor from a man in an Aleppo field hospital, the first surgery of its kind in an area under rebel control.

“The medical staff did not complain about a lack of resources and the meager equipment in their hospital,” a post on SEMA’s Facebook page read last Sunday.

Brain surgery does not require sophisticated medical equipment, Naser Hamoud, the head of the association’s branch in Jordan, told Syria Direct, but rather the skills of a specialized surgeon. The association can send doctors into Syria, but not equipment, due to constraints at the Turkish border as well as ongoing fighting in Syria’s rebel-controlled north.

International non-governmental organizations such as Doctors without Borders (DWB) have supplies and equipment available to send, but experience “trouble crossing at the border with Turkey, or else fresh fighting prevents supplies from arriving on time,” Carlos Francisco, a doctor as well as the Syria head of mission with Doctors Without Borders, told Syria Direct. 

DWB sends in supplies requested by local hospitals, but they also “regularly experience the supply issues you would expect in an ongoing war.”

Machinery that does make it to Syria may be destroyed in regime bombings, according to a February 2015 report from the Syrian American Medical Society, a relief organization representing Syrian American healthcare professionals in the US, with offices in Jordan, Turkey, and Lebanon.

Due in part to the bombings, almost all field hospitals now lack “CT scanners, most have only basic X-ray equipment, and few have intensive care units or ultrasound machines,” according to the report.

The impact of barrel bombs also causes generators that doctors rely on for electricity to stop, forcing doctors to pause surgery mid-course, the report added.

In the field

Once equipment does make it into northern hospitals, there are costs and expertise required to maintain it.

Last year in Aleppo, the city’s only working CT scanner was damaged due to an electrical problem, said Francisco of Doctors Without Borders.

“It took almost a year to get the part we needed, and to get a technician to get the machine up and running again,” he added.

For years, the Syrian regime has repeatedly targeted field hospitals in the rebel-controlled areas of the north. The pattern is well documented: In Idlib province, 15 field hospitals were targeted by regime bombings between Feburary 2014 and February 2015 alone, and several have been hit more than 3 times, according to the Syrian-American Medical Society. Five more hospitals in Idlib province were knocked offline in just two days of regime bombardment at the beginning of this month.

The ever-present threat of barrel bombs has literally forced Syrian medical staff underground, Francisco said.

“In hospitals that are five stories tall, medical personnel concentrate all the services in the areas that they consider safe: in the basement and on the ground floor.”

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