Op-Ed: Syria’s healthcare crisis

Last Friday, Sept. 30, marked one year since Russia began to deploy airstrikes against Syria. The Russian government claims that the strikes are necessary to keep Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in power. The United States, which supports rebel troops and is against Russia’s and Assad’s regimes, has also enacted airstrikes against the country. The U.S. has conducted 5,068 airstrikes against Syria since 2014. While the “great power” countries duel, the civilians are paying the price.

Airstrikes are, according to the governments that launch them, supposed to target military troops and fighters and/or terrorist groups. However, because it is extremely difficult to limit the target area of an airstrike to just one person or one building, airstrikes can have devastating effects on the civilian populations.

Airstrikes have shattered the population of the Syrian city of Aleppo. UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Justin Forsyth said just this week that “the children of Aleppo are trapped in a living nightmare.” Unfortunately, that might be an understatement. Within the two weeks following the ceasefire, more than 1,700 bombs have been dropped on Aleppo; according to a statement from UNICEF, 96 children have been killed and more than 200 others injured.

Those who are injured have nowhere to turn. As a result of airstrikes and the war, hospitals have been forced to close their doors. Currently, according to Dr. Abu Waseem, the manager of a Doctors Without Borders-supported hospital in Aleppo, all intensive care units are full. This means that patients in need of treatment are forced to wait for others to die before they can be given help. Hospitals are also extremely understaffed, with doctors being forced to work more than 20 hours a day in order to help those who are suffering.

It seems as if the situation could not get any worse. However, another major problem that the few doctors and hospitals left in Aleppo are facing is the fact that hospitals do not have the supplies they need to treat their patients. The entire city of Aleppo is under siege and humanitarian convoys attempting to deliver supplies are attacked.

Hospitals also struggle to help people because even neutrally-led hospitals have become targets for bombings. In April, a bombing of the Doctors Without Borders-supported Al Quds hospital killed 55 people. There was an attempt to continue the hospital, but it was bombed again in August.

Just this past week, two other hospitals located in Aleppo were damaged so much by bombing that they were forced to close their doors. This should not be happening. According to UN Resolution 2286, passed this May, hospitals should be granted a protected status in conflict zones.

As a member of the UN Security Council, Russia should be complying with the rules and resolutions laid out by the United Nations. Its failure to do so has prompted a desperate plea from Doctors without Borders Director of Operations Xisco Villalonga, who said, “the ruthless, brutal bombing must stop and urgent measures need to be put in place to allow the evacuation of the severely sick and wounded to areas where they can access adequate medical care. Anything short of this is confirmation of what many fear — that the world has abandoned the people of Aleppo.”

The crisis faced by the residents of Aleppo is both heartbreaking and frustrating, but there are a few things that you can do to help the situation. The most obvious solution to getting people out of Aleppo would be giving them the right to take refuge in other countries. Canada has done a tremendous job of this. They plan to resettle about 44,000 total refugees (not just from Syria) by the end of 2016 and have started a program which allows private citizens to house and take care of refugee families.

The United States, in contrast, has reacted to refugees with fear and anger. To encourage U.S. acceptance of refugees, you can sign this petition advocating for the resettlement of refugees in the United States. You can also donate to Doctors Without Borders, which currently runs more than 150 hospitals and health centers throughout Syria.

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