Syria: Living with coronavirus

Doctors prepare for the worst

The World Today Published 1 May 2020 Updated 29 March 2021 1 minute READ

Sarah Whitehead

Former Assistant Editor, The World Today

For weeks aid agencies have been warning that the spread of the coronavirus to camps for Syrian refugees on the border with Turkey would be a catastrophe that overwhelmed health services there. Sarah Whitehead asked a Syrian doctor based in the Turkish city of Gaziantep to explain what is happening. The doctor asked not to be identified.

The Independent Doctors Organization was established in 2012 and is staffed entirely by volunteers. Since the day we began we have been providing health and nutrition services to displaced people living in camps near the Syria’s border with Turkey. There are now over 1,000 people who work for us who are providing healthcare to five and a half million people in northern Syria. We have built eleven hospitals, thirty primary healthcare centres and two blood banks. We have eight ambulances.

We operate in the Green Zone which is currently controlled by opposition forces, and services are provided by NGOs.

At present there are only 29 confirmed cases of COVID-19 but due to the huge numbers of people living in camps we are worried about what is to come as our health facilities are overloaded. You will see people dying on street if this virus spreads. For these five and a half million people there are fewer than five hundred beds. At present 90 per cent of them are occupied, even without treating people with the virus.

We have been working with other local NGOs and the World Health Organization to raise awareness about how to prevent the spread. We have set up triage tents in the camps to test people showing symptoms and so far we have seen only negative results.

We are trying to secure PPE – personal protective equipment – to keep our medical staff safe but it is now very difficult to bring in supplies across the border.

We need help to bringing supplies into our area. There are restrictions at present on things going in and out of the Green Zone. From our side, we are sharing with our suppliers lists of items and some specifications of what we need. We are waiting for approval from the Turkish authorities to transport donations from Turkey to Syria as transit shipments.

At present things are still OK with the virus but it feels like a huge problem is going to come.

This interview was facilitated by Help Refugees.