BRUSSELS—The bombing of a crowded market on October 9 in a besieged suburb of Syria’s capital, Damascus, wounded massive numbers of people that health workers are struggling to treat due to an alarming shortage of medical supplies, the international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) said today.
Since October 4, bombing and shelling has intensified in and around the town of Erbin, in the suburban area of East Ghouta, near Damascus. The worst individual incident was the bombing of the market, after which a hospital in the area reported a mass-casualty influx of 250 wounded. While MSF has been supporting the hospital since April, 2013, and is in daily contact with its staff, it has no personnel there. Some 50,000 people have been under siege in Erbin for more than two years.
"After the bombing of the market, our emergency room was overflowing," said a doctor in the hospital, who wished to remain anonymous. "I was working through my tears when we had to amputate limbs of three children with severe wounds. We have used 95 percent of our stocks of drugs and medical items over the past days of non-stop emergency. With the bombs still falling, and another mass casualty influx this morning, we are very worried about the coming days and weeks. We are under siege and it is hard to get the supplies we need. So I am sad and angry that I cannot provide the high level of care we should be giving to all our patients."
MSF, which supports more than 100 health facilities throughout the country, including in East Ghouta, is deeply concerned that doctors in Erbin, as in other besieged areas, are struggling to respond to the massive influx of wounded.
From October 4 to October 14, the hospital team treated a total of 975 trauma patients, of whom180 were children under five years of age and 345 were girls and women. The hospital’s emergency room has been continuously full, and the surgical team has performed 495 surgical operations for the most severely wounded. To date, 63 patients have died of their injuries, including ten children under five.
In September, MSF assisted with a larger than usual resupply of essential medical materials so that the hospital was somewhat prepared, but the sheer numbers of wounded has caused a rapid depletion of the hospital’s supplies. MSF is attempting to assist the hospital in restocking essential materials, including anesthesia drugs, antibiotics and IV fluids that the hospital director has urgently requested. Resupply activities are extremely challenging in an area under siege.
“This horrific bombing and carnage in Erbin is a clear example of the relentless violence in Syria’s besieged enclaves, and illustrates why these hospitals need massive support,” said Bart Janssens, MSF director of operations. “The conditions and stress for the Syrian medics, who live under direct threat every day, have reached unbearable levels. The doctors have been on call 24/7 for two years, always on stand-by to treat emergency cases. They never know when there will be power cuts, a shortage of water in the hospital, or whether there will be any fuel to run an ambulance. It is hard enough for them to keep routine medical services running, when every box of medicine is difficult to supply, let alone responding to extreme medical emergencies.”
MSF directly manages three hospitals in northern Syria, but cannot work directly in other parts of the county due to lack of authorization or insecurity. To provide assistance to Syrian medics, a large program of MSF support has been developed, with a particular focus on areas that are besieged and cut off from assistance. This support covers more than 100 hospitals and health posts throughout the country, and ranges from regular resupply activities to keep the hospitals and health posts running, to medical training and one-off emergency donations related to specific medical emergencies.