The Immediate Need for a Strategic Post-Conflict Plan for Rebuilding Health in Syria


Never having been to Syria, or to an active conflict zone, it is hard for me to fully imagine the types of atrocities that have occurred over the past year. I write this blog post from my comfortable air-conditioned office in downtown Washington DC, and I cannot fully fathom the horrific conditions that Syrians face each day living through a civil war. The graphic images and tear-inducing stories of families being torn apart, children dying in the crossfire, and injured civilians unable to seek proper medical care are hard to digest. The US Government and the international community are faced with a challenging decision of whether or not to intervene with the efforts of the Syrian rebels to oppose the Assad regime. While we face the decision whether or not to impose a no-fly zone, or arm opposition troops, innocent civilians of all ages face an extreme shortage of medical care—or even none whatsoever. This is further complicated by the overwhelming number of refugees flooding the Syrian border towns in Lebanon and Turkey.

While often we are focused on the current humanitarian situation (and with good reason) in such crises, we tend to overlook the just-as-important need to plan for the rebuilding of the health infrastructure. On May 10 I attended a panel discussion at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, which did in fact highlight the need for such a strategic plan to begin to develop in Syria. The panel’s speakers overwhelmingly agreed that the international community must take immediate action to offer humanitarian assistance, but also discussed the urgent need to begin planning for rebuilding the health system in Syria. Dorothy Shea from the US Department of State reaffirmed the US commitment to humanitarian aid to Syria and the refugee camps, and to rebuilding human resources for health in Syria.

The attacks on health in Syria are abhorrent and deliberate. What is even more offensive is that Bashar al-Assad is a trained physician who served as a military doctor prior to assuming the presidency. Some of the reports out of Syria regarding the status of medical facilities reveal conditions that are beyond humane. Dr. Zaher Sahloul (who attended medical school with Assad, incidentally), represented the Syrian American Medical Society on the panel and illustrated the horrendous conditions in his hometown of Aleppo. Aleppo is a metropolis of over two million people and is the largest city in Syria. According to Dr. Sahloul, it is also a city that has fewer than 10 infant incubators and dialysis machines. Ten for a population of two million is unbelievably low. And most practicing physicians have fled the city because of constant attacks on medical facilities.

The violence in Aleppo and throughout Syria continues. News broadcasts tell us that Syrian hospitals are now recording chemical attacks on the opposition troops and on civilians. French news sources describe “dozens of chemical attacks” in Syria, mostly attacks on civilians, and recently an American woman was killed in the conflict. This is just a small glimpse into horrifying and increasingly tragic situation in Syria.  The international NGO community, government branches like the US Department of State, and international coalitions like Safeguarding Health in Conflict continue to raise awareness of this immediate need for a well-thought-out health infrastructure plan. We must continue to work together during and after this atrocious crisis.