Dr. Abo Ezz, the sole surgeon in one of the few remaining hospitals in Syria’s most populous city of Aleppo, described over the phone how two weeks ago the hospital was struck by a missile that landed in the area. Though fortunately only minor damages were reported, this has been part of a broader trend that has made headlines in the last few months—the targeting of health care personnel, facilities, and equipment throughout Syria. This is a trend that, when analyzed, can reveal a window into the nuances of the Syrian war that are often overlooked.
Research conducted by Physicians for Human Rights (PHR)—which is slated to release a report on the subject within the upcoming weeks—found that 365 attacks have been carried out on 259 separate health facilities between March 2011 and April 2016, and that approximately 91 percent were committed by the Syrian regime and its allied forces. While experts and pundits have speculated the reasons behind these attacks, there is clear evidence that the Syrian regime and its allies systematically target medical facilities. As a United Nations commission into the region concluded: “Government forces deliberately target medical personnel … as a matter of policy.”
These attacks have contributed to an immense shortage of health care throughout the war-torn country, claiming the lives of more than 700 medical professionals and driving thousands more to flee. In Aleppo, reports have estimated that of the 2,000 physicians who once operated medical care in the nation’s most populous city, forty remain.
Within regime-held regions, President Bashar Al-Assad’s administration has maintained some functioning health care facilities, according to anIndependent Doctors’ Association’s (IDA) spokesperson who asked to remain anonymous for safety reasons. However, these health systems became immensely politicized at the onset of the protests that began in 2011, and have continued to act as an arm of the security apparatus through the five-year conflict. With only 47 percent of public hospitals and health care centers partially operating and employing harsh pro-regime tactics, a majority of the population has been left without access to medical care.
This article continues on The Century Foundation website at https://tcf.org/content/commentary/syrians-suffer-war-health-care/.