Doctors call for end to attacks on medical facilities in Syria

Plea in open letter to ‘Lancet’ to allow full humanitarian access

A Free Syrian Army fighter walks through a damaged street in Aleppo’s Sheikh Saeed neighbourhood.

A Free Syrian Army fighter walks through a damaged street in Aleppo’s Sheikh Saeed neighbourhood.


More than 50 doctors from across five continents, including three Nobel Prize winners, have called on the Syrian government and the armed opposition to allow full humanitarian access to the country and cease attacks on medical facilities and personnel.

In an open letter to be published in the Lancet health journal this week ahead of the annual UN General Assembly meeting, 55 signatories, including doctors who have worked on the ground in Syria, warn that the country’s health infrastructure is “at breaking point” and swathes of the population are cut off from any form of medical assistance.

The issue was highlighted in a recent report by the UN commission of inquiry tasked with monitoring human rights abuses in Syria. It said Syrian government forces were systematically attacking hospitals and medical personnel and denying treatment to the sick and injured from areas controlled by or affiliated with the opposition.

Denial of care
“The denial of medical care as a weapon of war is a distinct and chilling reality of the war in Syria,” the UN commission said.

While noting that regime forces carried out such attacks “as a matter of policy”, it also documented attacks on hospitals by opposition fighters.

The report detailed the use of hospitals as torture centres by Syrian military intelligence agencies. More than a third of Syria’s hospitals have been destroyed and a further 25 per cent have been severely damaged as result of the fighting, according to the open letter.

One of the signatories, Gro Harlem Brundtland, former director general of the World Health Organisation, said she was concerned about the targeting of medical facilities and personnel. “This is an unconscionable betrayal of the principle of medical neutrality.”

Drogheda-based signatory
Among the signatories is Drogheda-based ophthalmologist Dr Fatima Hamroush, who served as health minister in Libya’s first interim government after the ousting of Muammar Gadafy in 2011. “Syria is almost certainly the most dangerous place in the world to be a doctor,” she said. “It is in conflicts like this where the world’s decision makers can unite to show true leadership and address the suffering of civilians. There is no acceptable reason why full, unimpeded access for all doctors needed in Syria should not be granted immediately.”