Syria: Aleppo Suffers Under Siege and Hospital Attacks

Karam Al-Masri/AFP

Hospitals are buckling under the pressure from attacks and dwindling supplies in eastern Aleppo, Syria, the international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières warned today, as the number of wounded patients increases and an estimated 250,000 people are now under siege in the city with no way out.

Fighting has intensified over the past three weeks and the long-suffering people of Aleppo city are bearing the brunt of the devastation. Continuous aerial attacks pound the east of the city, while shelling strikes the west, causing many casualties and injuries.

The siege of eastern Aleppo has left people trapped and struggling to survive, with the only road into non-government-held areas cut off. Now the population, and crucially the war-wounded and seriously ill, have no way out, while vital food and medical supplies cannot get in. Four hospitals that MSF provides with much-needed medical supplies were damaged by bombing in the last week alone.

One of these hospitals, which specializes in general and vascular surgery, was already hit one month ago and forced to close. MSF supported the emergency rehabilitation of the facility and it reopened two weeks ago. Just days later, on July 23, an airstrike on the building next door damaged the hospital again. The staff began referring patients to another hospital that was also hit shortly afterward. During the first minutes of chaos, the two hospitals were referring patients to each other while simultaneously being struck. 

“Hospital managers have told us that the number of wounded they were treating in the past month has risen sharply,” said Pablo Marco, MSF Middle East operations manager. “One of these hospitals was receiving up to 50 wounded per day, and last week it was hit and forced to close. Now where will these people go? How will the materials and equipment to rebuild the facility get through?”

“If the attacks on health facilities do not stop, soon there will be no more medical services available in eastern Aleppo,” Marco continued. “It’s not just the hospitals under threat—fuel shortages, that will only worsen in the weeks to come, will mean that ambulances won’t be able to run.”

The few remaining doctors and surgeons in eastern Aleppo are struggling to care for hundreds of thousands of people in dire need. In addition, the injured and sick and medical staff are terrified of going to health facilities. The medical staff fear that their supplies will run out and that continuous attacks will force them to stop their work.

Since 2014, MSF has been providing drugs, medical supplies and equipment to six health centers, three first-aid points and 10 hospitals in Aleppo city, two of which are now closed due to the bombing damage.

The last shipment of 330 cubic meters of supplies, the equivalent of 10 full trucks, was made at the end of April 2016 with enough materials to last three months. The next shipment is due soon and MSF fears it will not be possible to get anything through. Vital medical services are at great risk of being wiped off the map, not only by physical attack but also by the slow strangulation of supply.

“We once again demand that warring parties respect the rules of war, and that those who have influence on them stop this carnage,” Marco said. “The message is clear: stop bombing hospitals and civilian infrastructure, allow the severely sick and wounded to be evacuated and do not cut the supply of food, drugs and vital goods into the city.”

Watch: 3 QuestionsTreating Syrians Inside & Outside of Syria

MSF runs six medical facilities in northern Syria and supports more than 150 health centers and hospitals across the country, many of them in besieged areas.

A picture taken on April 28, 2016 shows Syrian men inspecting the damage at the Al-Quds hospital building following reported airstrikes on the rebel-held neighbourhood of Sukkari in the northern city of Aleppo. Doctors Without Borders condemned Thursday the "outrageous" air strike on a hospital it was supporting in the war-torn northern Syrian city of Aleppo, where doctors were among those killed. Local rescue workers said the overnight strike on the Al-Quds hospital and a nearby residential building left 30 people dead. Among them was the only paediatrician operating in the rebel-controlled eastern parts of Aleppo city, they said. Doctors Without Borders, which is also known by the acronym MSF, said two doctors were among 14 people killed in the strike on the hospital. In an online statement Thursday, Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said it had been donating medical supplies to Al-Quds since 2012. MSF said it had been donating medical supplies since 2012 to the 34-bed Al-Quds hospital, where eight doctors and 28 nurses worked full time. Karam Al-Masri/AFP
Karam Al-Masri/AFP