Northwest Syria: Two Airstrikes Cause Mass-Casualty Influx to MSF-Supported Hospital

SYRIA 2013 © Robin Meldrum/MSF

NEW YORK, MARCH 23, 2018—Two airstrikes hit a densely populated neighborhood in the town of Harem in Syria’s Idlib Governorate yesterday afternoon, said the international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières Friday. The nearest MSF-supported field hospital saw 63 injuries and 38 deaths—around half of which were children—in a town where medical staff are already overwhelmed and supplies are limited.

Medics reported that the airstrikes hit a popular market midafternoon Thursday, followed a few minutes later by a second strike. Casualties were immediately brought to the hospital, but this small facility could not handle such an influx of severely wounded patients on its own and medics were rapidly overwhelmed by the number of injured people. Multiple hospitals in the vicinity helped in the response, mobilizing ambulances to transfer patients and organizing emergency surgeries.

“The medics we support did their best to save as many patients as they could, but unfortunately some of them died soon after reaching the facilities,” said Dr. Khaled*, who oversees the organization’s support to health facilities in the area. “We had pre-positioned medical stocks in key hospitals there. But medical supplies never last long, especially when there are such a huge number of severely injured patients. We are currently organizing a resupply because emergency stocks are essential in such contexts. Without these, even more lives would have been lost.”

Since yesterday afternoon, medics in the area have been working around the clock to treat the injured. Until early this morning, people were still being found under rubble and rushed to the hospital for emergency treatment.

“Doctors in these facilities work in an incredibly difficult environment,” Dr. Khaled said. “Medical care in Syria is highly needed, but in some areas the capacity struggles to cope with the day-to-day needs let alone massive casualty events like this bombing. It is painful to live at a time when children are killed and wounded in the bombing of a busy public market. Our only relief is to keep supporting the Syrian medics to save as many lives, limbs, and futures as possible.”

MSF directly operates five health facilities and three mobile clinic teams in northern Syria, has partnerships with five facilities, and provides distance support to around 25 health facilities countrywide in areas where teams cannot be permanently present. MSF’s activities in Syria do not include areas controlled by the Islamic State group since no assurances about safety and impartiality have been obtained from their leadership, nor can MSF work in government-controlled areas since MSF’s requests for permission to date has not resulted in any access. To ensure independence from political pressures, MSF receives no government funding for its work in Syria.

*Dr. Khaled's last name has been omitted for security reasons.