In the corridors of a hospital in northwestern Syria, patients of all ages flock to receive free care. But since the main donor has cut its aid, the establishment risks going out of business.
Darkouch hospital is located in the rebel-held part of Idlib province. This region and its surroundings are home to three million people, half of whom are displaced by the war that broke out in 2011.
The establishment is one of many hospitals in Idlib that are at risk of partially or completely closing due to the drop in international aid.
Oum Alaa, a displaced mother, has been treated in the gynecological unit for eight days. “Here, the care is of high quality” and “this hospital is the closest to my home,” she told AFP.
And “I hope it will not close,” she adds, “because I will no longer have the means” to pay for hospitalization costs and medication.
Darkouch Hospital treats more than 30,000 patients free of charge per month. But at the end of November, an international organization stopped disbursing funds which represented 80% of the total aid.
– “Two months, at most” –
“We are currently drawing on stocks of equipment and medicines, but the reserves are starting to dwindle. We can last two months at most,” hospital director Ahmed Ghandour told AFP.
The emergency department and many other services have ceased to operate due to the cessation of aid, he said.
As for the medical staff, they have not been paid since the beginning of the year. “We need medicines and medical equipment,” said Mr. Ghandour.
In December, the World Health Organization (WHO) issued an emergency appeal to raise more than 257 million dollars (about 225 million euros) to meet health needs in this region for 2022.
Doctors warn of the threat of a health catastrophe, with hospitals in danger of closing at any moment.
According to the WHO, 3.1 million people out of a total of 4.4 million in northwestern Syria need medical assistance.
The hospitals received “operational aid, salaries and medical supplies” through international donors, including the WHO and international NGOs, Salem Abdane, director of the Idlib Health Authority, told AFP.
But “aid to around 18 hospitals” in Idleb and its surroundings was cut off at the end of 2021, according to the official, who calls on “donors not to neglect northwestern Syria”.
– “The needs are increasing” –
In 2021, the United Nations and its partners received only 46% of the total funding requested (4.2 billion dollars / 3.69 billion euros) under the humanitarian response plan for Syria.
“International aid is decreasing while needs are increasing”, deplores Mahmoud Daher, director of the WHO office in Gaziantep (south-eastern Turkey), stressing that some hospitals have ceased to operate, without specifying their number.
If, according to him, several establishments will soon benefit from aid from the UN humanitarian fund, this will be insufficient.
Northwestern Syria has more than 490 health facilities, including hospitals and health centers, most of which depend on international aid, especially for medicines, he further explains.
“The slightest drop (in aid) affects the lives of hundreds of thousands of people,” he warns.
The decade of war in the country has devastated the health system, especially in the North and North West. The Covid-19 pandemic has further aggravated an already difficult situation.
In a report published in December, the NGO Physicians for Human Rights warned that “the health needs of the population far exceed the capacity of the facilities and personnel available in northern Syria”.