Expansion of Tahrir al-Sham cuts support for medical centers in North of Syria

Medical staff protesting in front of Idlib Free Health Directorate October 16, 2018 (Idlib Health Directorate)

Medical staff protesting in front of Idlib Free Health Directorate October 16, 2018 (Idlib Health Directorate)


The medical centers of the health directorates in the north of Syria are threatened to be suspended, which warns of a difficult situation for the residents of the region, after the European organizations’ decision to cut support to humanitarian projects in the north of Syria, and leave the staff of these centers without salaries.

European organizations have suspended their support for humanitarian projects in the north of Syria, after the expansion of Tahrir al-Sham’s power against the Free Syrian Army factions.

The director of Idlib Health Directorate, Mundhir Khalil, said in an interview with Enab Baladi on Wednesday that some European organizations, especially the French and German ones, as well as the European Union, have suspended their support to all health directorates in Idlib, Aleppo, Hama, and Lattakia.

Khalil added that, according to the organizations, the main reason for the support suspension is the change of military control on the ground. He explained that the support has been suspended for stability support projects, and not for life-saving projects such as hospitals, health centers and emergency systems which have been included in the suspension but in a slight way.

Tahrir al-Sham had started a military action in Idlib Governorate and the western countryside of Aleppo, during which it managed to expel Nour al-Din al-Zenki Movement to Afrin, and force Harakat Ahrar al-Sham to dissolve itself, and affiliated the areas it had entered to the full administration of the Salvation Government, at the beginning of this year.

Khalil explained that Idlib Health Directorate supports 37 life-saving projects, and estimated that about 30 percent of support has been suspended from all projects.

On 3 December 2018, the Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA) resumed its support for the medical sector in Idlib Governorate, after suspending it last September, amid fears of complete suspension.

Among the organizations included in the support provided by the OFDA, the Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS), Relief International, and hospitals including Maarrat al-Nu’man Hospital, al-Oumouma National Hospital in Idlib and Aqrabat Hospital.

The area that receives services from the health directorates’ centers has a population of about 4 million to 700,000 people, according to figures published by the “Response Coordinators” team on December 26.

The countryside of Hama is on the verge of a disaster

The European organizations’ suspension of the support for the medical sector in northern Syria has affected the medical centers in Hama Health Directorate, including the rescue and emergency centers and the blood bank.

The primary care official at Hama Free Health Directorate, Dr. Ayham al-Salloum, said that the support has been suspended for more than 70 percent of the health facilities and centers in the region. These are points and centers distributed in one geographical area such as Shashabo Mountain, Mustariha, al-Ghab Plain, and the town of Qalaat al-Madiq, which are all located in the countryside of Hama.

Al-Salloum stated in an interview with Enab Baladi that the suspension of support would lead to the suspension of salaries and entitlements of the working staff in all medical centers in the region. He warned of a health disaster that would threaten the region in case the medical support’s suspension continued. The official also pointed out that about 250 doctors, nurses, and administrators working in those facilities are now working on a voluntary basis.

In the cold climate prevailing in the area 20 thousand people are now benefiting from medical facilities in the countryside of Hama.

Unaccomplished gap bridging

For his part, the Managing Director of al-Ghab al-Aswat Medical Center, Hassan al-Eiss, has expressed his regret over the cutting of support for the Center, which threatens of the center’s closure, especially that it was opened months ago, in order to bridge the gap in the shortage of medical centers in the region.

Al-Eiss said in an interview with Enab Baladi that the center provides services to more than 10 villages, which are spread between Qalidin in the north and al-Huwayz in the south, in addition to a number of villages near Shashabo Mountain, which are geographically close to the center and are spread from al-Badria and Shir Maghar in the south up to the villages of Shulin and Shahranaz in the north. Between 10 and 15 thousand people of these villages benefit from the services of the center.

As for the currently suggested solutions for the centers, al-Eiss pointed out that there is only one solution, which is communicating with the authorities and organizations working in this field to provide the necessary support. If the center fails to provide support, we may rely on the low-paid service.

As for medicines, al-Eiss said: “There is no doubt that we will not be able to secure all what we need, and this will negatively affect the quality of the services we provide to citizens, most of whom cannot afford the price of medicines.”


Other far-fetched solutions

Mahmoud al-Ghabi, a father of four children who is suffering from thalassemia, goes every two weeks to the blood bank in the village of Bab al-Taqa, north of Hama, so his children can have blood transfers. However, the shortage of blood at the treatment center imposed new fees on the father.

Al-Ghabi told Enab Baladi that when the support stopped, he was obliged to pay for the blood transportation from the city of Kafr Nabl, which is about 70 kilometers away, to bring it to the center, and this costs him over 10,000 Syrian pounds (500 Syrian pounds for each dollar).

Al-Ghabi’s case applies to hundreds of people who receive treatment at these centers, along with medication that is often provided free of charge, but its absence has increased the burden of parents and patients.


Voluntary work… waiting for a remedy

Idlib Health Directorate, published last Wednesday, a statement announcing the start of volunteer work for all workers and facilities supported by the directorate, most notably the internal specialized hospital, al-Hikma hospital in Taftanaz, Idlib blood bank, epidemiological laboratory in Harem.

While Hama and Aleppo Health Directorates issued a statement, stressing the civilian work carried out by hospitals and health centers, away from the military and political changes in the region.

Both health directorates called on international and local authorities to neutralize the medical sector, which serves about 3.5 million civilians in the north of Syria, one-third of whom are children.

In a statement released on Thursday (January 17th), the Response Coordinators’ team called on the return of organizations’ medical support: “We express our deepest regret at the cessation of donor support, which will lead to the suspension of work in more than 179 medical centers, hospitals, and a blood bank in the region”. Thus, the Response Coordinators’ team warned of the disastrous repercussions of stopping the support provided to the medical sector, including the spread of diseases, epidemics, and other infections.

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