Report: Syrian health care on brink of collapse

BEIRUT — Syria’s health care system is on the brink of collapse, with medics forced to engage in “brutal medical practices” in order to save lives: knocking out patients with metal bars because of lack of anesthesia, or amputating infants’ limbs for lack of other ways to treat their injuries, an international charity organization said in a report Monday.

Newborns die in hospital incubators during power outages, while millions of children have been exposed to deadly diseases, some of which are preventable with vaccinations and basic medical equipment, Save the Children said.

The conflict has ravaged Syria for three years and has hit the country’s heath facilities and health providers hard. Hospitals have been bombed by government forces in rebel-held areas and armed men, fighting on the side of the opposition have forced their way into clinics to have their fighters treated. 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 in a statement. “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, he added.

The report quotes a doctor saying that most children brought to his clinic suffer from burns and fractures. The doctor, who is not named in the report, 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 told Save the Children.

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

Most illnesses affecting children in war-torn Syria are treatable, it says. Many like measles, diarrhea and respiratory illnesses would be preventable by a functioning health system, the report said.

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 of measles in children under five were recorded in northern Syria alone, the report said.

Syrian crisis began as largely peaceful protests against President Bashar 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 from their homes, seeking shelter in neighboring countries or in safer parts of their homeland.

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