March 4, 2021

A decade of destruction: attacks on health care in Syria

Since the onset of the Syria conflict in March 2011, civilians have borne the brunt of the violence and withstood untold suffering. Their health facilities have been hit particularly hard, even though they are protected from attack under international law and should be safe havens in times of great need.

Even as the COVID-19 pandemic spread in 2020, attacks persisted, destroying hospitals, killing medical personnel, and preventing many from seeking and receiving lifesaving medical attention. The remaining Syrian medical practitioners have risked their own lives to provide health care in the midst of horrific violence, despite a lack of equipment and medication.

Inside the destruction

  • 59% of civilians in northwest Syria have been directly impacted by an attack on health care facilities.
  • 12 million Syrians are in need of health assistance, and roughly one third require routine reproductive, maternal, neonatal and child health services.
  • 56% of Syrians fear living in proximity to a health facility given the risk of attack.
  • 84% of health workers reported that attacks on health care directly affected them, their team or their patients, and 81% know of patients or colleagues who were killed in attacks.

One in four health practitioners witnessed attacks that left facilities beyond repair or restoration, with many setting up facilities in unconventional places such as caves, private homes and underground cellars.

Only 64% of hospitals and 52% of primary health care centers are functioning across Syria, while an estimated 70% of the health workforce has fled the country.

“What we have been through has wholly affected our psyches. When you see your brother or your friend or son with their hand cut off or their leg cut off…this is a situation no mind would accept. But with the resilience of the medical staff and the resilience of those managing the work, with God’s support, the hospital remained in operation, providing these extraordinary services.” — Saleh, a health worker

How SEMA US helps

SEMA has been working in Syria supporting vulnerable communities suffering from violence and displacement. We ensure the uninterrupted flow of medicines, supplies and health care equipment. We also operate clinics and mobile teams to provide lifesaving trauma services and reproductive care. Our response to the pandemic also includes public education campaigns and training health workers in infection prevention and control.

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