Source: Amnesty International –
Nearly eight months into the COVID-19 pandemic, the Syrian government is failing to adequately protect its health workers, still lacks a robust response to the spread of the disease, and is refusing to provide transparent and consistent information about the country’s COVID-19 outbreak, Amnesty International said today.
Relatives of COVID-19 patients, medical professionals and humanitarian workers have told Amnesty International that public hospitals have been forced to turn patients away due to a lack of beds, oxygen tanks and ventilators. In desperation, some residents have been forced to rent oxygen tanks and ventilators at exorbitant fees. Thousands of lives, including those of health workers, continue to be at risk with no transparent and effective information, or testing.
“Syria’s crumbling health system was already at breaking point before the pandemic. Now, the government’s lack of transparency about the scale of the COVID-19 outbreak, its inadequate distribution of personal protective equipment, and lack of testing is further endangering health workers and the general population,” said Diana Semaan, Amnesty International’s Syria researcher.
“As a matter of urgency, the Syrian government must ensure that health workers looking after COVID-19 patients are protected with adequate PPE and that they receive training on how to use this equipment. If the government does not have capacity, it should seek further support from international health organizations working in areas under its control.”
The Syrian authorities appear to be significantly under-reporting COVID-19 counts. On 22 March, the Syrian government declared the first COVID-19 case. As of 10 November, the Ministry of Health reported 6,352 cases of COVID-19, including 325 deaths. On 29 August, Ramesh Rajasingham, Acting Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator, told the UN Security Council “reports of health care facilities filling up, of rising numbers of death notices and burials, all seem to indicate that actual cases far exceed official figures”. Mr. Rajasingham added that the cases could not be traced to a known source, which also indicated weak testing and surveillance systems to control outbreaks of the disease.
Between August and October, Amnesty International spoke to 16 doctors, humanitarian workers, and family members of COVID-19 patients in Damascus and Daraa in Syria and outside the country. All testimonies indicate that the situation is worse than it was eight months ago.
Syria’s crumbling health system was already at breaking point before the pandemic. Now, the government’s lack of transparency about the scale of the COVID-19 outbreak, its inadequate distribution of personal protective equipment, and lack of testing is further endangering health workers and the general population.