Syrian children suffering from ‘brutal’ health care methods, says charity

Doctors forced to resort to 'harrowing' methods due to lack of medical supplies, says charity

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 11 March, 2014, 10:31pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 12 March, 2014, 4:10am


Syria's health care system is on the brink of collapse, with medics forced to engage in "brutal medical practices" to save lives, an international charity organisation said.

Doctors resort to knocking out patients with metal bars because of a shortage of anaesthetics and amputating infants' limbs as the only available way to treat their injuries, according to Save the Children.

Newborn babies die in hospital incubators during power cuts, while millions of children have been exposed to deadly diseases, some of which are preventable with vaccinations and basic medical equipment, the charity said in a report.

The conflict has ravaged Syria for three years and has hit the country's health facilities and health providers hard.

Hospitals have been bombed by government forces in rebel-held areas. Armed men with the opposition have forced their way into clinics to have their fighters treated, and many doctors have fled the country to escape harassment from the warring sides.

"This humanitarian crisis has fast become a health crisis," Save the Children's regional director Roger Hearn said. "The desperate measures to which medical personnel are resorting to keep children alive are increasingly harrowing."

Simply finding a doctor is a matter of luck, Hearn also said. Finding one with the necessary equipment and medication to provide proper treatment has become almost impossible.

The report quotes an unnamed doctor saying that most children brought to his clinic suffer from burns and fractures. The doctor says they need complicated operations that cannot be performed in his small facility.

"In some cases, we have to cut their limbs off to try to save their lives, because if we don't they will bleed to death," the doctor said.

Also worrying is the re-emergence of deadly and disfiguring diseases such as polio and measles, which can permanently maim and paralyse, the charity said. It estimates that up to 80,000 children are likely to be infected by polio's most aggressive form.

Most illnesses affecting children in Syria are treatable, it says, adding that many like measles, diarrhoea and respiratory illnesses would be preventable by a functioning health system.

The charity says a total of 26 measles cases were reported in Syria in 2010, before the war. In contrast, in the first week of 2014, 84 cases in children under five were recorded in northern Syria alone.

The Syrian crisis began as largely peaceful protests against President Bashar-al-Assad's rule in March 2011. The revolt transformed into civil war in which more than 140,000 people have been killed.

Millions of Syrians have fled from their homes, seeking shelter in neighbouring countries or in safer parts of their homeland.