Before the uprising began more than three years ago, the Syrian healthcare system was suffering, but now it is in critical condition and desperate need of life-saving support.
The increase in casualties caused by the international campaign against ISIS may well be what makes the already unbearable situation in the opposition-held areas of Syria, where I work, even more unbearable. The work is demanding – not just because we are trying to save lives in a war zone – but because there are so few of us left.
Approximately 70 percent of doctors who were practicing medicine in 2010 have now left the country. The 30 percent who remained have been decimated by detentions, torture and executions at the hands of Bashar al-Assad’s intelligence service, which considers it a crime punishable by death to provide medical treatment to “the other side.”
Then there are the near constant attacks on hospitals, which not only destroy the structures and equipment, but also result in the death of more doctors and other healthcare professionals.
The targeted attacks on hospitals by Assad’s air force – already devastating – have increased markedly since the bombing campaign against ISIS began. But we are caught in the middle: dodging the barrel bombs from the government; praying that the U.S. bombs won’t drop on us by accident; and, treating the wounded who are flooding in to hospitals during the day. At night I try desperately to grab a couple of hours of sleep even as U.S. bombers scream overhead.
I am not sure how much longer we can hold on. There is not a single hematologist left in the opposition to treat blood diseases, but we try our best to save the lives of children who have a dangerous form of anemia. This should not be a life-threatening disease – but for these children of war, it is.
Every day I watch people die. Some die quickly from wounds too devastating to treat. Some die slowly from diseases that could have been managed – but not in today’s Syria.
We need help. We need equipment. We need supplies. We need medicine. We need people with expertise to treat all the patients with chronic diseases such as diabetes and cancer because our supplies have run out, our equipment has been destroyed, and we are exhausted.
It is impossible to move patients to government-controlled areas where most of the U.N. aid has gone, and where one might expect to receive care – because instead they will be detained and tortured. We can only move the gravely wounded over the border to Turkey. For all the other patients – the child dying of anemia, the woman suffering from a complicated pregnancy, the cancer patient – we do our best, knowing that unless we get proper equipment, a steady stream of medical supplies and medicine, we will lose more lives than we save.
We are doctors. We live to help and heal people – not to watch them die. Every one of us living in opposition-held territory of Syria has made a conscious decision: despite all the risks, we will stay and treat whoever needs us.
We need the U.N. to understand how desperate our situation is. There is no time for bureaucracy. Time is running out. The U.N. can alleviate the suffering of people living in besieged areas of Syria by delivering life-saving aid.
As bombers tear across the sky on their way to dropping their deadly cargo, I wish that the urgency that moved the U.S. and other governments to bomb ISIS was matched by an urgency to save the lives of civilians. Please do not wait until there is no one left to save.