SYRIA: SAFETY OF WOUNDED AND MEDICAL WORKERS MUST BE PRIORITISED
· Wounded people and medical workers remain targeted and threatened, the international medical humanitarian organisation Médecins Sans Frontières said today, following visits to parts of Syria.
· Médecins Sans Frontières insists that all parties to the conflict must fully respect the physical integrity of wounded people, doctors and healthcare facilities.
· Médecins Sans Frontières calls for increased political and diplomatic efforts to ensure the safety of patients and medical workers, without the use of force.
Médecins Sans Frontières has been seeking official authorisation for several months to work with medical personnel in the Syrian governorates most affected by violence. To date, none of our efforts, either directly with Syrian authorities or via various intermediaries, have succeeded.
Nonetheless, after reaching Homs, Médecins Sans Frontières managed to enter Idlib Governorate where the medical teams found patients and doctors at risk of attack and arrest.
"Being caught with patients is like being caught with a weapon," said an orthopaedic surgeon whom Médecins Sans Frontières met in a village in Idlib Governorate. “The atmosphere in most medical facilities is extremely tense; healthcare workers send wounded patients home and provide only first aid so that facilities can be evacuated quickly in the event of a military operation.”
"A number of Syrian colleagues are reported to be missing," said Marie-Noëlle Rodrigue, Médecins Sans Frontières’ director of operations in Paris. "The authorities and all parties to the conflict must ensure that medical workers can operate without fear of retribution and that wounded people can safely seek and receive immediate life-saving care, without resorting to inadequate improvised clinics for fear of arrest, or worse.”
While Médecins Sans Frontières has only a partial view of the medical situation inside Syria due to the lack of authorisation to work in the country, the information obtained by Médecins Sans Frontières in Idlib is consistent with what it witnessed in Homs. “We saw militarised healthcare facilities, meaning that access to medical care depends on which side you belong,” said Brice de le Vingne, Médecins Sans Frontières’ director of operations in Brussels.“Health facilities are being targeted, thus endangering patients and preventing healthcare workers from doing their jobs. Health facilities and pharmacies are looted and destroyed.”
During its short time in the Idlib area, the Médecins Sans Frontières team was able to perform some emergency medical work.
"In one public hospital we worked as hard as we could for three days straight," recounted a Médecins Sans Frontières surgeon. "We operated on 15 wounded people and then had to pack everything up in 10 minutes after being notified of an imminent attack. Elsewhere in the Idlib region, an operating room was closed because it was simply too dangerous to perform surgery on wounded patients,” he said. “Or doctors were threatened, and they discouraged us from setting up a medical facility because the situation was so risky,” adding that another hospital had been destroyed.
“You can see medical equipment and supplies,” the surgeon recounted. “Sometimes the resources and the infrastructure are there, but the fear and the risks of capture are so great that doctors hesitate to treat patients.”
Still without official authorisation to operate inside Syria, Médecins Sans Frontières continues to support networks of Syrian doctors in Homs, Derah, Hama, Damascus and Idlib, delivering supplies and medicines from neighbouring countries. Médecins Sans Frontières also treats those who were wounded or tortured in Syria at a surgical hospital in Amman, Jordan. Additionally, Médecins Sans Frontières is providing primary health care and psychological support to Syrian refugees in Lebanon.
Médecins Sans Frontières reiterates its call for authorisation to work inside Syria. The organisation stands ready to quickly mobilise its medical and surgical teams, and is determined to operate independently, providing care to anyone requiring it.
Despite the lack of effective ceasefire or sustainable political solution, all parties to the conflict must fully respect the physical integrity of wounded persons, doctors, and healthcare facilities, Médecins Sans Frontières said. Médecins Sans Frontières calls for increased political and diplomatic efforts to ensure the safety of patients and medical workers, without the use of force.
Médecins Sans Frontières first reported [ LINK: http://www.msf.org.au/media-room/press-releases/press-release/article/syria-medicine-used-as-weapon-of-persecution.html
] in early February on the abuse of health facilities and the targeting of patients and medical workers.
For more information please contact Kate Fulton
Médecins Sans Frontières Australia
PO Box 847, Broadway NSW 2007 Australia
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