We asked Dr. Zaher Sahloul, president of the Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS) and a critical care specialist in Chicago, to weigh in on what he calls a “pattern” of targeting Syria’s medical facilities.
It depends on the area. There’s definitely limitations on hospitals. In areas that are under the control of the opposition, like in northern and northeastern Syria and in Deraa, we have definitely seen a pattern of targeting field hospitals and regular hospitals by the regime. So we’re talking about aerial bombing. One of the hospitals that was hit is a hospital that we’re supporting in Aleppo. It was hit by a missile that was fired by a fighter jet. Aerial bombing in general is done by the regime, the opposition doesn’t have airplanes or fighter jets. It looks like it was directed at the hospital because it was a direct missile from a jet. These things are more guided than, let’s say, a barrel bomb.
Yesterday I was speaking with the director of one of the hospitals on the Syrian-Turkish border, which is funded by Orient Relief Organization, and he told me there was a car bomb that was placed near the hospital, exploded and completely destroyed two floors, and several patients died. Some of the surgeons were injured. Some other staff were also injured. He thinks that it’s also the regime, because other hospitals that also belonged to the same relief organization were hit by aerial bombings in different areas in northern Syria.
There is a pattern of targeting field hospitals or hospitals in areas the regime considers treating patients that belong to the other side. Unfortunately 99 percent of patients treated in the field hospitals are civilians who just happen to be living in these neighborhoods, and who require surgery related to shrapnel injuries or explosions or indiscriminate aerial bombing.
In other areas in Syria, there’s a limitation to access to hospitals because of the [aid] situation. Sometimes it’s related to the siege, and people do not have the freedom to move from neighborhood to neighborhood. Especially when you have a medical emergency: it’s difficult for someone with chest pain or appendicitis, or a woman who is delivering in the middle of the night to be transported safely to a hospital. And once that’s done, then it’s difficult for them to find the right physician, especially specialists have left Syria the past three years. That’s also because of the targeting of healthcare professionals by the regime.
After this last bombing of our hospital in Aleppo, many staff have refused to come back to work even after the hospital was repaired. In general, the families of the physicians and the staff who are working in these hospitals have relocated to Turkey, and the physicians stay and live and work in the same [hospital] building. So it’s a dangerous situation, and after each bombing you have people who decide that it’s enough, and it’s not worth it for them to continue to practice anymore. Right now we’re having difficulty keeping the doctors and nurses and technicians working in these hospitals.
They’re also demanding higher compensation now, because frankly, the salaries that we are paying them – and patients are not able to pay for these surgeries, so we have to pay them – are not competitive.
We’re seeing [the worsening] of the targeting of medical facilities and hospitals after the Geneva conference. We are not seeing any reduction of these bombings after the Security Council resolution. So no one is expecting these attacks to stop.