Real actions, not sanctions, needed to save public health in Syria (by Ambassador Alexander Yakovenko for RT)

The humanitarian situation in Syria remains complex. According to the UN, 13,5 million Syrians or more than half of the country’s population need help. Of the UN 2017 humanitarian appeal for Syria of $3,4 bn, so far $702 mln has been allocated by donors. The Syrian public health system, which was once considered the best in the region, has now significantly deteriorated and its state is of particular concern. There is limited access of the population to the medical and sanitary services, and the immunization from the main diseases remains at a very low level. As of the end of June, 17 cases of poliomyelitis were registered in the country. The threat of epidemic remains high. Due to the lack of clean drinking water, outbreaks of dysentery, cholera and typhoid fever are ever more possible.

According to WHO, as a result of the ongoing armed conflict up to 2/3 of the medical workers have left the country. In public hospitals people are treated mostly by inexperienced graduates of medical schools. Due to underfunding, many centers for primary health care are closed, especially in rural areas. The issue of the destruction of medical institutions in Syria as well as their “militarization” (use for military purposes by terrorists and opposition) remains subject to politicization and bias.

The definitive catastrophe of Syria’s public health is being averted for now only due to the remaining network of non-governmental commercial medical institutions, which despite having been seriously affected, still continue to function. However, due to the high cost, many Syrians can’t afford visiting private practitioners.

The situation in the national pharmaceutical industry, which until 2011 was one of the most developed in the region, is indicative of this crisis. More than 90% of the required medicines were produced domestically. There were 63 pharmaceutical plants in Syria that produced 6,000 types of products. As a result of the conflict, the production of medicines has decreased by 70-75%.

US and EU sanctions against Syria that prevent import of medicines to the country remain one of the biggest problems. Hospitals badly need anesthetics, antibiotics, serum, medicines for chronic non-infectious diseases, medical equipment. A number of medicaments is available, but at prices that are inaccessible to most of the population. Even in the absence of direct prohibition on the supply of medicines and medical equipment, unilateral restrictions do not allow carrying out banking operations.

What is needed now is for the international community to focus on this dire situation and make a concerted effort to help Syria save its public health sector. Good will and real assistance, not sanctions, will help define the future for the Syrian people.