Indiscriminate bombing by Syrian and Russian forces is taking a devastating toll on the children of eastern Aleppo. At least 320 children have been wounded and 114 have died as a result of airstrikes over the past three weeks alone. The siege has cut off access to essential vaccinations, and water-borne diseases are reportedly on the rise. Hospitals also report that the struggle to access medical facilities has increased the likelihood that people—particularly children—with easily treatable wounds will suffer potentially fatal complications.
According to data from the Directorate of Health, an average of 17 children have been injured every day since the aerial bombing campaign resumed on September 23, following an all-too-brief ceasefire. This figure does not, however, take into account casualties registered in the last 48 hours, during which the bombing campaign has intensified.
From the beginning of the Syrian war in 2011 to April of this year, the Directorate of Health has registered 5,200 child deaths in Aleppo.
"The international community has become immune to images of dead children being recovered from the rubble of buildings ravaged by bombs," said Carlos Francisco, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) head of mission in Syria. "This has become a daily occurrence. All sorts of civilian spaces are being hit; schools are being damaged. The reality is that children die every day in what appears to be a 'kill box.'"
Orphaned and Injured
"As a result of the airstrikes and the siege in eastern Aleppo, a large number of children have lost their parents," said Pablo Marco, MSF operational manager in the Middle East. "Some have been badly injured and will be disabled for the rest of their lives. Others are suffering from trauma. What we are seeing are consequences that will affect for years to come."
The airstrikes are not the only threat to children's health in the war-ravaged city, however. The conflict has forced essential pediatric healthcare programs to scale back or close altogether. "Previously there were door-to-door polio vaccination campaigns and expanded programs on immunization in eastern Aleppo, but these are no longer possible as vaccines and logistic supplies can´t reach the area," said Dr. Hassan Nerabani, from the Aleppo Directorate of Health. "The number of medical teams working in eastern Aleppo is also insufficient. They are overwhelmed by the huge number of war-wounded and their priority is to save lives. Many pediatric health programs are on hold."
As clean water sources become scarcer, hospitals report that cases of diarrhea and dehydration are on the rise among children in eastern Aleppo. Some water pumps were destroyed in airstrikes; others are running low on fuel. "We are seeing many children with hepatitis A due to a lack of clean drinking water," said Dr. Nerabani. "The shortage of food and baby milk is also leading to some severe cases of malnutrition."
Education is another casualty of the siege. Since school resumed in September, at least seven of the 100 or so remaining schools in eastern Aleppo were bombed—one was hit twice—and one teacher was killed, according to data compiled by the local authorities. "Families are afraid of sending their children to school," said Mohammed Bakir, from the Teachers Committee of east Aleppo.
"All parties to the conflict must facilitate safe and free passage for medical and humanitarian personnel, as well as the timely evacuation of the seriously ill and wounded to areas where they can access specialized medical treatment and feel safe," Marco said.
MSF supports eight hospitals in eastern Aleppo. The organization runs six medical facilities across northern Syria and supports more than 150 health centers and hospitals across the country, many of them in besieged areas.