Millions of Syria’s children are in shocking and desperate need of humanitarian aid as a result of the three-year-old civil war, according to A Devastating Toll, the new report by the international charity Save the Children. According to the report, more than 10,000 children have died as a result of the breakdown of the country’s public health system.
The medical system in Syria has collapsed as its doctors flee the country and hospitals have been damaged or destroyed. In some areas, such as the city of Aleppo, the number of doctors has dropped from 2,500 to only a few dozen, and homes are being used as hospitals.
The destruction of the medical system is revealed in appalling ways.
Children limbs are being amputated because clinics have no equipment to treat them and amputation is the only alternative to death from blood loss. Babies are freezing to death in hospital incubators because power has been cut off. In some cases patients are choosing to be hit with metal bars to knock them out because there is no anesthesia available. Parents are hooking up intravenous drips for their children themselves because there is no medical staff to help them.
Diseases that can be treated or prevented are killing growing numbers of Syrian children. The report stated asthma, kidney failure, cancer, diabetes, and epilepsy have killed thousands of children, and polio, which had previously been eradicated in the country, has returned. Documentation of the effects of these untreated illnesses do not include the 1.2 million children who have fled to neighboring countries.
In one example of the doctor shortage, the report referred to instances of hundreds of operations being performed in Syria by doctors barely out of medical school. In one case, the only medical professional available to treat children was a dentist.
About 40 percent of the population is in desperate need of humanitarian aid, including 4.3 million children, but looting is becoming an increasing problem complicating the supplies such as food, clothing, medicine, and routine childhood immunizations.
Supply truck managers are afraid to dispatch their trucks, with the result that many Syrians are not receiving supplies. Certain areas have been particularly affected by attacks on aid convoys, as the regime cuts off delivery of food and medical aid entirely. Truck drivers only get paid if their load reaches its destination, usually over the border where it is transferred to another truck driver or merchant for delivery.
Some truck drivers will not cross the border, and transfer their cargo to Syrian drivers on the Turkey side of the line, drivers who are more willing to risk their lives to deliver aid.
Fighting also blocks the border for long periods of time, making it impossible for trucks to deliver their cargo. There are also Syrian citizens waiting to return to their country from Turkey, carrying supplies such as money, or medicine for family members.
Truckers say that food is the most commonly transported form of aid right now, coming from non-governmental organizations (NGO) and aid groups around the world. Extremist rebels are looting the trucks, while refugees themselves are resorting to stealing, desperate for aid that is not arriving to them.
The U.N. Security Council has passed a resolution calling for all parties involved in the Syrian war to allow aid to be distributed, but aid workers doubt that the resolution will have any real impact.
“It is not just the bullets and the shells that are killing and maiming children,” says the report. Inhumane conditions in the country will persist until desperately needed humanitarian aid, including medical care, can reach Syria.
By Beth A. Balen
The Globe and Mail