January 15, 2016

BRUSSELS—Five people have died from starvation in the besieged town of Madaya, Syria, since the first humanitarian convoy arrived on the afternoon of January 11, medics supported by the international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontères (MSF) confirmed Friday.

MSF calls in the strongest terms for an immediate medical evacuation to safe places of treatment for the most critically malnourished and sick, to avoid further loss of life.

"This is shocking; patients are still dying despite the arrival of two big international humanitarian convoys," said Brice de le Vingne, director of operations for MSF. "Some of the current patients may not survive another day. Medical evacuations for the most critically sick and malnourished need to happen immediately, and it is hard to understand why patients clinging to life have not already been evacuated. Nothing should be allowed to hold this up and everything possible should be done by the warring parties and the agencies involved in the convoys to expedite these evacuations as a life-saving humanitarian act."

Read More: Siege and Starvation in Madaya

Twenty-three patients died of starvation in Madaya in December. Five more died on January 10, and another two died on January 11 as the first convoy, from the United Nations, International Committee of the Red Cross, and Syrian Arab Red Crescent was en route. The latest five deaths make a total of 35 deaths from starvation confirmed by the MSF-supported medics in Madaya.

The MSF-supported medics have identified 18 critical patients who will die unless they are evacuated and treated immediately. A larger number will either need medical evacuation or medical care from personnel with expertise in malnutrition in the following days.

Providing medical care to severely malnourished patients is technically complex, and just giving therapeutic food without prior experience treating malnutrition could send a patient into edema, a dangerous swelling caused by the accumulation of fluid in body tissues. 

The most critical patients need to be treated in a hospital environment with skilled medical staff and appropriate medical infrastructure. MSF also advises that pregnant and lactating women be evacuated from Madaya.

"We raise the strongest possible alarm that some of the patients who need urgent hospitalization are about to die if they are not medically evacuated immediately," said de le Vingne. "This is the current emergency, while other essential medical follow-up activities need to be pursued in the coming days."

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