Among the wounded seen on Saturday 11 December were 11 children under the age of 14 and two women. Two people died before reaching the hospital. A four-year-old patient was among those brought in. “There were shrapnel wounds all over her small body,” said Dr Jihad Ismail*, MSF’s medical activity manager. “Our medical team managed to stabilize her, but it was still very shocking to see her injuries. The others had light to moderate injuries.”
“This is not the first time we have dealt with a mass casualty influx in one of our co-managed hospitals in northwest Syria”, he said. “But it’s unusual to see so many children. In this instance, some were as young as two. It’s distressing to see children who have experienced nothing but conflict in their short lives become not just witnesses but also direct victims of such violence.”
The need to respond to medical emergencies, such as mass casualty events or outbreaks, remains extremely high in northwest Syria. Despite the agreement of a ceasefire in March 2020, airstrikes and shelling continue and the situation is volatile.
The population and the health system have already been severely impacted by over 10 years of conflict, and such mass-casualty influxes illustrate how the need for life-saving care remains very high.
*name has been changed to protect identity
NOTE TO EDITORS
Over the past decade of conflict, Médecins sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) has consistently readapted to the changing context in and around Syria to respond to humanitarian and medical needs.
MSF is currently supporting eight hospitals in northwest Syria including one burns unit, in addition to 12 Primary Health Care centres (PHCs) and five ambulances for referrals. MSF also supports 14 mobile clinics serving more than 80 Internally Displaced People (IDP) camps. MSF is running Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) activities as well, in close to 90 IDP camps across the northwest region.
Most recently, MSF has opened COVID-19 isolation and treatment centres, as well as a treatment centre for respiratory illnesses in northwest Syria. In displacement camps, MSF runs mobile clinics to conduct COVID-19 tests and distribute prevention kits for displaced people. To counter vaccine hesitancy, MSF is also running community and digital health promotion initiatives.
In northeast Syria, MSF provides vaccination support in 12 locations. It runs a primary healthcare clinic, a programme for non-communicable diseases, mobile wound care, and a reverse osmosis plant to provide safe drinking water in Al-Hol. MSF also runs two NCDs clinics and provides primary health care services, including tuberculosis care inside a Detention Centre. Furthermore, MSF supports a hospital, as well as an outpatient department (OPD) which includes an ER, and it has launched a nutrition programme. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, MSF has supported hospitals and health centers in two major cities during the peak.
MSF’s activities in Syria do not include government-controlled areas since MSF’s requests for permission to date have not resulted in any access. To ensure independence from political pressures, MSF receives no government funding for its work in Syria.