Covid-19. The situation in Syria

16 April 2020, 16:46

As we continue our regular updates on the spread of Covid-19 in countries where we are maintaining our presence, today’s focus is North-East Syria, where since 2015 we have been collaborating with local partners, including the Kurdish Red Crescent, to rebuild the local healthcare system which was destroyed by war. We manage 15 clinics and hospitals here and we are doing our best to prepare for the virus. But in a war-zone, it is twice as challenging.

So far, there have been 29 confirmed cases of Covid-19 and 2 fatalities throughout Syria (as of 16th April). However, there is reason to believe that there have been many more cases which the Syrian regime has chosen not to declare.

Many international organisations, including IRC and WHO, have been sounding the alarm since early March: if the virus takes hold in this country which has already been weakened by 8 years of war, its healthcare system in ruins and an exhausted and largely displaced population, it could trigger an unprecedented disaster.

We have been active in the North-Eastern region, whose inhabitants are particularly vulnerable following the Turkish invasion in October 2019. It is estimated that around 70,000 people are still displaced as a direct consequence of the attack, and only 1 of the 16 local hospitals in currently fully functional. At the very start of the crisis, the Autonomous Administration of Rojava announced a lockdown: they imposed restrictions on movement and closed most shops. Just like the rest of the world, but in a war-zone.

Given the situation, it is extremely difficult to gather up-dated and reliable data and to organise the transport of healthcare equipment over the border. Currently, for a population of around 3 million people (in the North-East alone) there are no available intensive care beds.

So, together with local partners including the Kurdish Red Crescent, we have decided to focus on prevention awareness-raising campaigns based on WHO guidelines, and to equipping intensive and sub-intensive care hospital beds.

In these territories, we currently manage 15 hospitals and clinics in Raqqa, Armuda and Derek as well as areas near Al Hol and Kobane, all of which are currently focussed on tackling the global pandemic; initiatives include awareness-raising sessions on personal hygiene and social distancing, as well as close monitoring of the patients, to identify any increase in patients with respiratory problems or flu-like symptoms. Obviously, our work is hindered by the lockdown, closed borders and other restrictions.