Syria: UN health agency highlights ‘critical health threats’ facing Idlib civilians

©IFRC/Samer Abo Alway Organizations like the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies are supporting the Syrian health system.

This article is brought to you in association with the United Nations.


The World Health Organization (WHO) raised the alarm on Monday over critical health threats facing hundreds-of thousands of Syrians forced to flee due to intensified hostilities in Syria’s northwest, where health facilities and workers have increasingly come under attack.

Fighting in Idlib, the last area in the country under opposition-control, has intensified in recent weeks, amid “unprecedented” mass displacement, said WHO.

Nearly 520,000 have been forced to leave their homes, many for the second time, since 1 December. On average, WHO and its partners reach 800,000 in northwest Syria every month – but the agency said the situation on the ground is changing by the hour.

As of 31 January, at least 53 health facilities had suspended services since the beginning of the year, due to insecurity, threats of attacks, or the fact that entire areas have been deserted by civilians seeking refuge from violence and daily bombardments.

This has further limited access to basic healthcare, an increasing lack of basic medicine, and less protection against communicable diseases as a fragile immunization network, put in place by WHO and partners, is now disrupted. An estimated 2.9 million people in Syria’s northwest are in need of healthcare.

Demand outstripping supply

“To fill the gap created by closed health facilities; we are revising our referral network, trying to sustain stocks of life-saving medicine for those with non-communicable diseases and supporting the relocation of some of the health facilities”, said Rick Brennan, WHO’s regional emergency director.

“Prepositioned on both sides of the Syria/Turkey border, we have a two-month supply of essential medicine, but in the light of the extent of the crisis, we fear the demand will be far greater than the supply.”

More mobile clinics

WHO said its team on the ground would also increase the number of mobile clinics that can follow the movements of the displaced, which are less likely to be attacked.

So far in 2020, two separate attacks on health care have been verified, both in the northwest, claiming 10 lives and injuring 30.
“The current situation in northwest Syria – characterized by lack of access and medicine, insufficient hygiene, chaos and mass displacement – poses a significant risk of outbreaks of measles, diarrheal diseases and other diseases,” said Mr. Brennan.

Idlib crisis being ‘largely ignored’

The senior official said it was “striking” that in the case of Idlib, where Syrian Government forces plus their allies Russia and others are battling the last remaining rebel fighters, “the enormous humanitarian needs are being largely ignored by the international media and governments.

“Northwest Syria represents one of the world’s most severe humanitarian crises, where civilians are suffering on an extraordinary level.  Humanitarian agencies can only do so much. What we need is a renewed international commitment to bring an end to this protracted and devastating crisis”, he said.

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