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Sunday 23rd October 2016

Doctors smuggled in for secret hospital

29th May 2012

The continuing attacks against opposition protesters and civilians by the Syrian government of President Bashar Al Assad have triggered a humanitarian crisis.


An estimated 9,000 people have died, with countless more injured. The numbers are hard to verify, as any medical personnel are vulnerable to retaliation by government forces if they treat anyone injured in the attacks.

Gross breaches of medical neutrality have been reported, including the deliberate targeting of medical facilities, health workers and patients.

However, Syrian doctors in the UK are mobilising themselves to offer humanitarian assistance within Syria, in spite of the grave risks involved.

Newly returned from Homs, a Syrian doctor identified only as Mohammed said he had founded a charity to provide medical aid to Syrians and set up a hospital in the beleaguered city with funding collected by the group, Hand in Hand for Syria.

Mohammed's group, which draws on local networks, intimate knowledge of the country and exclusive access to important people, has forged ahead where bigger, more established charities are reluctant to operate.

He said there is still a distinct absence of health services in Homs, where hospitals have been completely taken over by the military.

Instead, local people have set up secret field hospitals to treat those injured in clashes with government troops.

Medical supplies are currently smuggled across the border from Lebanon, because neither doctors nor supplies are being allowed to pass by border guards.

Mohammed and the doctors who went with him made the dangerous journey to Homs in secret, taking three days. All have since returned unharmed.

Simpler injuries are dealt with by more than 40 volunteer nurses at first aid stations surrounding the field hospital; the more seriously injured are transferred to the hospital, whose location is still undisclosed.

The humble, three-roomed building consists of a waiting room, pharmacy, and a theatre, and boasts inadequate equipment which is often outdated or broken.

However, staff have managed to build a working set of anaesthetics apparatus, using smuggled components.

Mohammed said doctors routinely saw "blast injuries, trauma from shelling, sniper wounds, and blunt trauma from collapsed buildings - all of which require urgent surgical care".

The ceasefire has in practice meant little let-up in the fighting, and little respite for medical workers.

Doctors working there have also seen injuries consistent with torture as well as unexplained infections linked to bomb blasts leading them to question whether some form of chemical warfare is being used on activists.

There currently remains only a limited supply of drugs to treat chronic diseases like diabetes and asthma, as the country's pharmacies have been shut down. Paediatric medicine is in particularly short supply.

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