Translating Humanitarian Emergency into Medical Aid in Syria

Claire Glasscoe


Hospitals & Polyclinics

Healthcare facilities for civilians inside opposition-held Syria are under constant attack by the Assad regime and its allies. This is regardless of whether the hospital or clinic is sponsored by an internationally respected organization such as Médecins sans Frontières. The aim of the regime is to prevent medical treatment reaching those in who oppose the Syrian government and anyone living in an opposition-held or 'Free' area is considered to do just that. This policy and practice is well documented by the UN Human Rights Council and the Physicians for Human Rights (PRH) organization have produced an interactive map of attacks on medical facilities in Syria and the number of healthcare personnel killed.

In order to provide treatment in these areas, directors of medical services have sought to conceal their location – in basements, caves, purpose-built facilities underground and other unlikely sites inside Syria. Alternatively, civilians with complex medical needs who are able to reach the border-zone may receive treatment over the border in Turkey, Lebanon or Jordan. These services may be funded by the host country or donated from external sources when they are free at the point of delivery. I met with Dr M. Ammar Martini has dedicated his life to providing medical care to his fellow countrymen, women and children in open defiance of threats from both the Assad regime and ISIS. He describes in detail the history of events culminating in the service he champions – The Orient for Human Relief and the current challenges he encounters delivering medical care to civilians inside Syria.


Having secure locations for medical facilities inside Syria and on the border-zone is only half the problem for service delivery because difficulties then arise with respect to how these services are supplied with medicines and equipment as . There is also a real concern present over safe travel for patients and staff to and from these facilities.

Those who have sustained complicated injuries inside Syria may need to be transported from the site of their trauma to a field hospital and then across the border for complex treatment. Injured Syrians talk throughout this website about the tortuous journeys they made to obtain treatment over the border and how they were helped along the way to receive, for example a prosthetic limb or a cornea transplant to treat a conflict related injury.

The hazards of getting a convoy of medical supplies to a hospital service intact even when it has been vetted by the Assad regime and approved was made abundantly clear by the recent bombing of the Red Crescent convoy into besieged Eastern Aleppo on 19/09/16. There is a clear argument for keeping the whole process from beginning to end secret when revealing coordinates for healthcare facilities results in their destruction. Here I talk with those who have the difficult task of negotiating safe passage of staff and medical supplies to Syrian healthcare facilities.

Mobile Healthcare

An alternative to static clinics and hospitals either inside Syria or on the border-zone is the concept of mobile healthcare where the service travels to the patients it intends to serve. This strategy enables the medical service to reach communities in different localities, even those who are on the move themselves, such as displaced individuals. For those that are not able to move because of injury or disability, this approach reduces the need for their having to travel, such as in the case of amputees.
The ability to be able to take the service to the people also means that the service and its staff can move out of harms way when there is a threat of becoming a target in a military offensive.
Here I discuss with those thinking creatively about how to get healthcare services to those in need of medical care inside Syria.