Medical services 'stretched beyond limits' amid heavy shelling in East Ghouta

In the besieged East Ghouta enclave near Damascus, continued intense bombing and shelling is resulting in huge numbers of wounded, reduced medical capacity and creating a disaster for patients in need of treatment, says the medical humanitarian organisation Médecins Sans Frontières / Doctors Without Borders (MSF).

From 14 to 26 November, five MSF-supported field hospitals in East Ghouta have responded to 24 mass casualty influxes. The reported numbers in those medical facilities so far amount to 576 wounded and 69 dead.  A quarter of those dead and wounded are women and children though true casualty numbers are unquestionably higher as these figures don't include facilities not supported by MSF.

A major field hospital in Kafr Batna in East Ghouta that MSF has supported since 2013 was hit by two rockets on 20 November, seriously damaging hospital infrastructure and putting one ambulance out of service - fortunately with no serious injuries to patients or staff. 

“During this period of intense conflict medical care - for men, women and children – is at its most needed. But the services in East Ghouta are stretched beyond their limits. Even those who risk trying to reach a hospital or clinic may find it has reduced services due to the fear of bombing, and many facilities are using exceptional amounts of medical supplies that will be difficult to replenish,” says Bertrand Perrochet, Director of Operations for MSF. 

Another two field hospitals and a clinic supported by MSF temporarily suspended their non-emergency services between 15 and 18 November out of fear of exposing medics and patients to being wounded or killed. Many patients and medical personnel stay home out of fear of being hit in the near constant bombing and shelling.

“The medics we support and their patients need to be safe in hospitals and clinics,” says Perrochet. “But even if people can get to healthcare and can be safe there, without a huge exercise to resupply the area with medical essentials, the medics’ capacity to save lives will be increasingly limited.”

To compound the problem, the rate at which MSF reserve stocks are being used has sky-rocketed. Some items are nearly depleted while other have completely run out.  Most of the facilities MSF is in contact with report being in urgent  need of further supplies in order to treat their patients.If these are not replenished and facilities cannot obtain essential medical equipment and supplies, patients lives will be at stake. 

MSF requests, in accordance with International Humanitarian Law, that all parties avoid hitting civilians and civilian infrastructure including hospitals and the Government of Syria immediatly authorises the supply of medicines and medical material into East Ghouta.


Notes to Editors:

- Among the casualties counted so far at the five MSF-supported field hospitals in East Ghouta, 26%, or 149, of the wounded have been women and children under 15 years old, and 25%, or 17, of the dead are women and children.

- MSF directly operates five health facilities and three mobile clinic teams in northern Syria, has partnerships with five facilities, and provides distance-support to around 70 health facilities countrywide in areas where MSF cannot be directly present. No MSF staff are present in supported facilities. MSF’s activities in Syria do not include areas controlled by the IS group since no assurances about safety and impartiality have been obtained from their leadership, nor can MSF work in government-controlled areas since MSF’s requests for permission have to date not resulted in any access. To assure independence from political pressures, MSF receives no government funding for its work in Syria.

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