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On a street leading to the besieged Rabaa al-Adawiya protest camp, several doctors set up a makeshift ward on the pavement. Paving stones became pillows. Car covers became beds. Instead of medicine, all the doctors could offer were cartons of fruit juice bought en masse from a nearby kiosk. And all the while, rapid gunfire was heard hitting walls around the corner. The wounded were hurried over at a rate of one every minute.
War, by its very nature, is expected to cause injuries and deaths. But in Syria, human rights groups and others with first-hand knowledge about the conflict there say the extent of mass killings, torture, and other atrocities associated with the 2-year civil war has reached horrific levels. Among the 23 million residents of Syria, nearly 93 000 had been killed as of June and nearly 5 million have fled their homes, some to nearby countries.
Doctors and other healthcare workers in Turkey, and the facilities in which they work, are facing sustained and intense attacks for treating patients injured during the current civil unrest in the country. By providing emergency assistance to the injured, medical workers in Turkey are fulfilling their duty under the International Code of Medical Ethics. Had they not done so, they would have risked international condemnation, faced professional disciplinary proceedings, and violated the Turkish penal code.
For Dr. Qasem al Zein, the revolution began with a feeling of hope. “Even before the Syrian revolution, in the beginning of the Arab Spring, I was happy and wished it would reach us,” he told filmmaker Amal Saloum. “The Syrian people suffered oppression and tyranny more than any other people in the world. So I expected the people to take to the streets.” Saloum filmed Dr. Qasem at work in the city of Al Qusair, several months before the long siege that has brought it back under the control of the government in recent weeks.
In a conflict zone, getting the basics — food, water, shelter — is a constant challenge. And it likely involves being on the move. Now imagine pregnancy. There might not be a functioning medical facility for miles. And the environment makes the woman and her baby more susceptible to complications.
The August issue of The Nation’s Health, the official newspaper of the American Public Health Association (APHA), features a front-page article on violence against health workers. “Work to Document Violence against Health Workers Growing” includes remarks from Leonard Rubenstein, chair of the Safeguarding Health in Conflict coalition.
Last Friday, a team of PHR staff and members of the PHR chapter of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine visited Congressional offices to advocate for the Medical Neutrality Protection Act. This Act is a bipartisan bill introduced in May 2013 by Rep. Jim McDermott (D-WA).
On July 3, 2013, a female health worker was killed in northwest Pakistan while conducting polio vaccinations; she was the latest to die in an on-going anti-vaccination campaign by militants. About three weeks earlier, on June 16, militants killed two male volunteers who were administering polio vaccines in northeast Pakistan.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, UNICEF, and WHO, with support from the Office of Foreign Disaster Control, trained 50 staff from Syrian and Jordanian ministries of health and other organisations working in and around Syria in May, 2013, in Jordan. A third of Syria’s 21 million people are now displaced from their homes. Most of the north of Syria is rebel-held territory and local administration is no longer directed by the national administration. Patients have flooded into several hospitals in neighbouring countries, where Islamic charities are subsidising care.