Nearly a decade of conflict in Syria has eroded the country’s health system: seven out of ten health workers have left since 2011. Just 59 of the country's 111 hospitals remain operational, and sanctions have left the facilities without enough medical supplies and limited supplies. There are fewer than 500 intensive care units with ventilators in public hospitals.
Action Against Hunger is adapting our response in Syria to address the newest humanitarian crisis: the COVID-19 pandemic. Our top priorities are to increase access to clean water and hygiene, protect the health system, and cushion the economic impacts caused by the pandemic.
Our teams fear a rapid spread of the disease in Syria similar to what is occurring in neighboring countries: “We are redoubling our efforts to guarantee access to safe water and basic hygiene materials as soon as possible, two crucial elements to prevent contagion. We are also equipping ambulances and health centers to be better prepared for the risks of the pandemic."
Action Against Hunger has already scaled up distribution of water in Hasakeh and rural Aleppo, and our goal is to do the same soon in Ildib.
“This pandemic threatens a country where 11 million people already need humanitarian aid - of which 4.5 million are in dire need - and there are 6 million internally displaced people, refugees, and returnees. Since March 14, movement restrictions have hindered the humanitarian activities that all of these vulnerable people depend on,” explains Chiara Saccardi, Action Against Hunger’s regional lead for the Middle East.
"We are especially concerned about the situation in internal displacement camps in the northeast as well as a possible outbreak in the northwest, where lack of access to safe water leaves the population completely exposed."
At a time when frequent handwashing with clean water and soap are crucial, supplies for the Alok water station, the main water supply for 500,000 people in Hassakeh, are continuously interrupted - just one more example of how the conflict leaves the civilian population unprotected from disease, particularly children under five years old and people with disabilities. Additionally, pharmacies in the area are empty of medical supplies and medicines.
With most of the Syrian population dependent on small businesses for their livelihoods, movement restrictions will hit the economy hard. The country is experiencing high inflation rates and has suffered a 50% devaluation in its currency compared to this time last year.
Increasing protections for sanitation facilities; scaling up diagnostic capacity; adequately following up on cases, contacts, and isolation; carrying out hygiene awareness campaigns, supplying chlorine for water treatment, and continuing humanitarian assistance including distributions of lifesaving supplies are key to the COVID-19 emergency response in Syria.
Action Against Hunger has been working in Syria since 2008, ensuring humanitarian assistance to more than 300,000 people since the beginning of the year.