Middle East

Diseases are spreading in Syria: WHO

File - A medic stitches the head of a wounded Syrian boy at a makeshift clinic after a mortar reportedly fired by Syrian government forces fell in the besieged rebel town of Douma, 13 kilometres (eight miles) northeast of Damascus, on November 11, 2014. AFP PHOTO/ ABD DOUMANY

BEIRUT: One million people have been wounded during Syria’s civil war and diseases are spreading as regular supplies of medicine fail to reach patients, the World Health Organization’s Syria representative said.

A plunge in vaccination rates from 90 percent before the war to 52 percent this year and contaminated water have added to the woes, allowing typhoid and hepatitis to advance, Elizabeth Hoff said in an interview late Thursday.

“In Syria, they have a million people injured as a direct result of the war. You can see it in the country when you travel around. You see a lot of amputees,” Hoff said. “This is the biggest problem.”

She said a collapsed health system, where over half of public hospitals are out of service, has meant that treatments for diseases and injuries are irregular.

Hoff said that Assad’s government, which demands to sign off on aid convoys, is still blocking surgical supplies, such as bandages and syringes, from entering rebel-held areas. Aid workers say Damascus argues that the equipment would be used to help insurgents.

“What has been a problem is the regularity of supply,” she said. “The [government] approvals are sporadic.” Syrian government officials could not be reached for comment Thursday or Friday.

More than 6,500 cases of typhoid were reported this year across Syria and 4,200 cases of measles, the deadliest disease for Syrian children, Hoff said.

There was just one reported case of polio, which can paralyze children within hours, in 2014 following a vaccination drive, but other new diseases appeared, including myiasis, a tropical disease spread by flies which is also known as screw-worm, with 10 cases seen in the outskirts of Damascus.

Syrian activists in the Eastern Ghouta district of Damascus said that tuberculosis was also spreading due to poor sanitary conditions and a government siege on the area, blocking aid.

The United Nations called Thursday for more than $8.4 billion to help nearly 18 million people in need in Syria and across the region in 2015.

Hoff said that the WHO delivered more than 13.5 million treatments of lifesaving medicines and medical supplies in 2014, up nearly threefold from the year before.

But the problems were growing at an even faster pace, Hoff said, with poor water access and deepening poverty worsening the health crisis: “The needs are not possible to believe.”

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on December 20, 2014, on page 8.

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