COMMENTARY

Health Professionals Respond to Syria's Humanitarian Crisis

Samer Attar, MD

Disclosures

January 22, 2014

In This Article

A Plea to Protect Humanitarian Aid

Despite these obstacles, native Syrian medical and humanitarian workers are bearing the brunt of the workload, operating under hazardous and unyielding conditions with scarce resources. International law safeguards medical neutrality and the principle of treating the sick and injured on all sides without discrimination. As 55 prominent medical professionals described in an open letter to the Lancet, in Syria this principle is being threatened, criminalized, and assaulted.[10]

The suffering that we have personally witnessed as volunteers in and around Syria is horrific: children missing limbs or shot in the head; families crushed by rubble or severely burned by airstrikes; refugees struggling to survive in tented camps. As humanitarians, it is our responsibility to raise awareness and try to protect innocent victims and those in Syria who are risking their lives to save the lives of others.

It is our hope that diplomatic intervention will stop the bloodshed and ultimately implement a framework for a political solution. Given the relentless deterioration seen over 34 months, and with a divided UN Security Council, the reality is complicated and the outlook is bleak.

However, millions of people are sick, injured, displaced, and isolated, and aid groups and UN agencies cannot even deliver basic necessities, such as blankets, food, and medicine. Until a peaceful resolution of any kind is negotiated or achieved, unhindered and unthreatened humanitarian access through Damascus and across borders must be permitted and prioritized by all armed parties. Aid groups and UN agencies will need funding and support, and neighboring countries that are sheltering refugees will need assistance from the international community.

The UN Security Council must also collaborate as it did for chemical weapons disarmament. It must demonstrate the same will, resolve, and urgency to secure humanitarian ceasefires, cross-border and internal transit of aid, and an end to humanitarian blockades.

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