Pandemic Repercussions in Syria
By: Grace Friar/Arab America Contributing Writer
For nine years, Syria has faced a brutal civil war that has left the public health infrastructure in shambles and millions of Syrians displaced in less than optimal conditions. As the COVID-19 pandemic spreads, aid workers and experts are raising concerns of the potentially devastating toll on the already outrageous humanitarian crisis within displacement camps, like the still rebel-held Idlib. Healthcare centers struggle to accommodate the influx of patients.
So far, the Middle East has seen 12,429 deaths and has reported 508,647 cases of COVID-19. The top five countries with the most confirmed cases being Turkey, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and Qatar. Recoveries stand at 285,999, which accounts for 10% of the world’s recoveries.
Since the first confirmed case on March 22, Syria stands with four deaths and 122 cases, ranking last among countries in the Middle East. Testing conducted mainly in Damascus occurs at a rate of about 100 tests per day. As reported, there are five testing labs, 32 quarantine centers, and 13 treatment centers dedicated to COVID-19 patients. However, supplies are scarce. The World Health Organization supplied the government with testing kits. However, only one laboratory in Damascus is reportedly testing. Prices for masks, disinfectants, and medicine have risen while the public health infrastructure remains under-sourced and strained from the civil war.
Syria’s health ministry is taking measures to “guarantee the health security of the citizens and curb the infections” by government-mandated restrictions. Syria’s borders are closed, travel between provinces is restricted, and all flights have been halted. Gatherings at mosques, churches, and other events have been banned to control exposure. Schools, universities, and restaurants have also been closed.
Under international law, Syria has an obligation to recognize the entire population’s right to health. Although limited resources and capacity may mean that these rights can only be fully recognized with time, the authorities are still obliged not to discriminate between different parts of the population. In addition, they must justify any aid delivery limitations. Under international humanitarian law, consent to allow relief operations cannot be withheld on arbitrary grounds. All parties to an armed conflict and other relevant states must also allow and facilitate rapid and unimpeded passage of impartial humanitarian assistance for civilians in need.
Since January 2020, non-UN aid groups that previously depended heavily on the UN for health care supplies have been unable to deliver enough aid from the Kurdistan Region of Iraq to northeast Syria. There is a concern about restrictions on aid reaching Kurdish-held areas in northeast Syria and the access of medical supplies in that region, such restrictions do greatly impact testing capabilities.
Many aid groups are raising the alarm to Syria’s hospitals as well as displacement camps sheltering refugees from the civil war. After nine years of war, less than two-thirds of Syria’s hospitals are fully running, and seventy percent of healthcare workers have fled Syria since the start of the civil war in 2011.
One of the last rebel-held areas in Syria, refugee camps in Idlib, has amassed a population of three million Syrians. 81% of this number are women and children, sheltering from the civil war. These camps already have a lack of food, clean water, shelter, and basic sanitation. Exposure to sub-zero temperatures and other elements add to the list of conditions, make these camps a humanitarian crisis, and illustrates the worry of COVID-19 as they are already ill-equipped.
The World Health Organization has shipped 300 test kits to the city of Idlib and promised to supply an additional 2,000 tests. The WHO will deploy an additional 1,000 health-care workers and as many as 10,000 masks and 500 respirators to the city and surrounding areas to run the emergency response and testing process in the few remaining clinics and hospitals.
What makes the situation more horrible in Syria is the United States policy regarding sanctions. See the following petition to lift these sanctions.
Check our blog here!