Supporting a Decimated Health Care System in Southern Syria


In southern Syria, fighting intensified in February and March as opposing forces vied for control of the city of Dara´a. As bombings and aerial attacks in eastern Dara´a increased, hospitals and medical structures in the area were forced to close to avoid being targeted. Some residents have also witnessed civilian structures being targeted by airstrikes.

The fighting resulted in a surge of 30,000 internally displaced people. Many fled to surrounding farmlands or returned to villages previously abandoned and destroyed. Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is responding to this new crisis with an emergency distribution of 893 kits of essential relief items, distributed to families in two areas.

Acute Insecurity

Displaced people in southern Syria face acute insecurity and limited access to aid and medical care. As their living conditions become more precarious, their health further deteriorates. Fighting has also resulted in an increase of injuries. In the past two months, MSF has seen 65 war-wounded Syrians arrive at Ramtha Hospital's emergency room in northern Jordan. Thirty-seven were admitted to MSF’s emergency surgical project there.

MSF presence and medical activities in Syria remain severely constrained, mainly due to shifting front lines, insecurity in armed opposition areas, and a lack of authorization to operate in government-controlled areas. MSF nevertheless continues to directly operate four health facilities in the north of Syria and support more than 150 health facilities nationwide, including several in the south. However, the capacity of these facilities is shrinking, with most unable to respond to the specialized surgical needs of war-wounded Syrians.

Obstacles to Care

As bombing and aerial attacks in eastern Dara’a increase, many roads have been left blocked or partially closed by the conflict, resulting in difficulties in delivering humanitarian assistance. In terms of health care, most hospitals are not receiving enough supplies and medications. 

One of the biggest concerns at the moment is the protection of vulnerable populations and meeting basic shelter needs. There are few formal camps in the Dara’a area and, despite concerted efforts, the needs for proper shelter and tents for the displaced population have still not been met. Thousands of people live in makeshift shelters on the streets, or on farmland, in conditions that pose significant risks in terms of security and health.

Read More: "We Are Talking About a War Where the Civilian Population Itself is Targeted"

There are also still very large gaps in all aspects of health care—whether it’s secondary and tertiary health care, routine vaccinations, mental health services, chronic diseases, or reproductive health. Though MSF and the other organizations have sought to anticipate periods of increased violence, hospitals and medical facilities in the south as a whole continue to be understaffed and underfunded.

Six years of war have decimated Syria's health care system. The lack of specific medical equipment is compounded by the very limited number of medical specialists still present in the country. According to recent information, an estimated 15,000 have doctors fled the country, nearly half the total number of doctors present in pre-conflict Syria. As a result, hundreds of thousands of civilians live without access to even the most basic health care.