An interview with Dr. Hussein, a Syrian pediatrician who manages a hospital supported by Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in besieged eastern Aleppo, which is now enduring a withering onslaught by government and government-affiliated forces. Dr. Hussein had left Aleppo to celebrate Eid Al Fitr outside the city and has been unable to get back in since the last road into east Aleppo was cut in July. He hopes to return as soon as possible to continue delivering care at the hospital, and in the meantime, he has been receiving regular updates from colleagues there.
“We used to provide lots of services at this hospital: surgery, pediatrics, intensive care, internal medicine. But the bombings in east Aleppo over the past month forced us to focus on the increase of war-wounded patients, which became almost 80 percent of our work in recent weeks.
Before the siege, the hospitals used to see between 8,000 and 10,000 patients a month; this was cut in half by the beginning of July. Not only that, but also most of the patients then were war wounded, and a number of them were internal and pediatrics emergencies.
One main problem we see in the hospitals is that intensive care units (ICUs) are overwhelmed. Some patients are forced to stay in the operating theater because there is no space in the ICU. Ventilators and oxygen purifiers are often broken because of overload. The other day two patients died because the oxygen purifier couldn’t provide proper oxygen.
The hospital has been damaged three times by bombings. The most severe incident was mid-July and the hospital was forced to close for around 10 days. Most departments were affected and we worked hard to repair what we could. Then on August 3, and once more on August 6, bombing around the hospital again damaged the facility. The hospital is running at the moment, but it is able to care only for the most urgent cases.
People are scared to go to hospitals. They see them as potential targets. They only come to us now if it is an absolute emergency.
Medical staff are suffering in east Aleppo. With the heavy load of patients, each doctor has enough work for two people. They see many wounded people every day. Just like everyone else, the health staff is struggling with the lack of food, fuel, and many basic necessities.
The few hospitals left in the city are vital for people to survive. Without them, it would be slow death. We really hope to see a safe route that allows medical staff to return to the city and allows food and medical supplies to enter.”