Steven Sahiounie, journalist and political commentator
Some western charities advertise for donations by pulling on the heartstrings of wealthy donors and selling them on the notion there are no more doctors or hospitals in Syria. They seek donors to send cash to build hospitals in secret locations employing doctors who refuse to state their name. Yet, Syria is full of University medical teaching hospitals, public hospitals, and private hospitals, including the French and Italian hospitals. Additionally, the Syrian system of neighborhood and village public clinics is being used for inoculations of the newest COVID-19 vaccines.
SYRIAN MINISTRY OF HEALTH AND WHO
On May 24 the 74th session of the World Health Assembly was held virtually in Geneva, with Syria participating among the 194 member states. The Syrian delegation was headed by Syrian Minister of Health Dr. Hassan al-Ghabash, who presented Syria's plans to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, especially about supporting medical analysis laboratories and tracking the implementation of vaccination plans against the Coronavirus and the impact of its spread in health and the application of the primary health care program.
On May 9 the World Health Organization (WHO) delivered 40 equipped ambulances to the Syrian Ministry of Health. "The ambulances, which will be put into service immediately, will enhance the emergency health system that has been devastated by attacks against health facilities. While further assistance is required to strengthen emergency services, I would like to convey my appreciation to the WHO country office in Syria and to Dr. Ahmed Al-Mandhari, WHO's Regional Director for the Eastern Mediterranean, who discussed the provision of this support during his last visit to Syria in October 2020," said Dr. Hassan al-Ghabash.
The delivery of these ambulances will enhance the ability of public health services to respond to medical emergencies, provide timely referrals for patients in severe and life-threatening conditions, especially for people living in hard-to-reach areas or those not able to afford transportation. The delivery is part of a strategy to strengthen the capacity of Syria's public health emergency operations center, established with the support of WHO in 2020, in Damascus.
Syria has signed on to the Covax initiative, with the first shipment of the AstraZeneca vaccine having arrived in Damascus and the vaccination of health care workers having been followed by ongoing inoculations of the public over 50-years of age across the country.
The Syrian Ministry of Health, with the support of WHO and UNICEF, has trained field staff at the governorate level on microplanning, service delivery, communication, infection, prevention, and control, as well as adverse events following immunization.
The United Arab Emirates sent their 4th shipment of COVID-19 vaccine doses to Damascus on May 5. The plane was sent by the Emirates Red Crescent (ERC), in coordination with the Syrian Red Crescent Association, to assist the Syrian health sector in addressing the repercussions of the pandemic and support local preventive measures aimed at curbing the spread of the virus.
The government has recorded 19,000 COVID-19 cases, including more than 1,200 deaths.
The US-EU sanctions have continued against the Syrian people, despite the spread of the coronavirus. Last year, the former Syrian Health Minister, Dr. Nizar Yazigi, said during the 73rd Session of the WHO World Health Assembly that "harsh and unjust" US and European sanctions hinder efforts to combat the coronavirus in Syria.
The EU imposed sanctions on the Syrian government in 2011, renewing them on an annual basis. The sanctions include an oil embargo, restrictions on certain investments, a freeze of the assets of the Syrian central bank held in the EU, export restrictions on equipment and technology with dual use as well as on equipment and technology for the monitoring or interception of internet or telephone communications. The sanctions make it costly and difficult for western companies to get a sanctions deferment to sell medical products, including medicines, to Syrian hospitals and doctors, including private facilities. This results in medical machines sitting idle in hospitals and clinics for want of a replacement part, which can't be obtained because of sanctions.
On May 25 the Syriac Catholic patriarch, Patriarch Ignace Joseph III Younan, called on Western countries to lift "all economic sanctions against Syria because they only harm the innocent."
"The economic sanctions imposed on Syrian people by the Western governments in the name of democracy and political liberty have created horrendous consequences in a country that endured wars, siege, and abandonment for over 10 years," Patriarch Younan said after visiting Syria for 10 days and visiting three dioceses: Homs, in central Syria; Aleppo in the north; and Damascus, the capital.
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