Babies dying in Syrian refugee camps, says doctors’ group

Lack of medicines inside the country means people are dying of treatable diseases

Syrian refugeesat the Zaatari refugee camp in the Jordanian city of Mafraq, near the border with Syria.

Syrian refugeesat the Zaatari refugee camp in the Jordanian city of Mafraq, near the border with Syria.


The death rate among newborns is reaching crisis levels in Syrian refugee camps while people inside Syria are dying of treatable conditions such as diabetes and hypertension, a doctor’s group has warned.

The babies were dying of complications during birth which could normally be easily treated, such as lack of oxygen and asphyxia, said Dr Chiara Lepora, Médecins Sans Frontières’ programme manager for the Middle East.

This was the result of women giving birth in camps and homes away from hospitals and medical help, she said. “It is very painful for a society to witness this,” she said, on a visit to Dublin.

In a population which once had a good level of healthcare, there were now few Syrian children under two years vaccinated. “There is a fear at this point of an epidemic or outbreak of measles or whooping cough,” she said.

Médecins Sans Frontières is operating a paediatric hospital inside the Za’atari camp in Jordan – which was designed to accommodate 60,000 refugees but is catering for up to 190,000. It also operates clinics and health programmes in other camps in Lebanon, Iraq and Turkey.

The group is treating a number of people in the Za’atari camp with injuries received during the conflict. Others with more severe injuries were forced to remain inside Syria since refugees must be able to run across parts of the border to get out, said Dr Lepora.

Some tropical diseases Syria had eradicated were returning because of a lack of medicines, she said. “People are also dying of stupid things like hypertension and diabetes,” she said.

The group operates clinics inside Syria, where it was receiving reports that people with injuries feared going to hospital in case they would be suspected of being involved in the war.

Getting medicines into the country was also difficult since some help was being blocked. Last year the group was stopped bringing blood into the country in case it was used to treat people injured in fighting. There was also a lack of medicines inside the country: Syria used to produce its own pharmaceuticals before the war but now no longer did, she said.

Hospitals targeted
Hospitals and clinics were targeted for bombings to put pressure on the local population or to kill patients suspected of being treated following conflict, Dr Lepora said. “It is heartbreaking to talk to our Syrian colleagues who are trying to do their best and are brave, staying in the country providing the best care they can,” she said.

The group is also concerned about reports of human trafficking and prostitution. There were reports of refugees being offered help by military or organised criminal groups who then exploited them.