Experts Detail Efforts to Save Syrian Children
Published: Friday, February 21, 2014
Updated: Friday, February 21, 2014 16:02
Medical experts with firsthand experience treating civilians in Syrian refugee camps discussed the Syrian government’s denial of basic relief aid to those trapped in a country that has been engulfed in a bloody civil war for almost three years.
The event, hosted by the Center for Contemporary Arab Studies, Center for Social Justice, The GU Medical Center and the Institute for the Study of International Migration on Tuesday in the ICC Auditorium, included a screening of the BBC Panorama film, “Saving Syria’s Children” and concluded with a question and answer panel with medical experts Dr. Annie Sparrow and Dr. Hisham Naji. .
After the fighting in Syria began in March of 2011 as an extension of the Arab Spring uprisings, over nine million people have been displaced. The violence between rebels and the regime of President Bashar al-Assad has caused a shift in national resources to the battlefield, and consequently, education and healthcare have suffered throughout the country over the past few years.
The bleeding bodies, infectious diseases and infant deaths of the Syrian rebellion, while far removed from Georgetown’s campus, were placed in the spotlight in the film: “Saving Syria’s Children,” which followed two British doctors around Syria as they checked in on hospitals and aided refugees.
The film contextualized “the greatest humanitarian disaster” the country has ever seen. While international aid organizations have attempted to send relief to those affected by the war, the government’s military regime has made it almost impossible to succeed in delivering aid and supplies.
“We [Doctors and aid workers] are all terrorists in Syria. We are all criminals for doing our jobs … As doctors, as aid workers, as paramedics, we depend upon the laws of war and humanitarian efforts in order to give aid … But Assad has actually turned all the laws of war upside down in order to control society,” Sparrow, the Deputy Director of the Human Rights Program at the Icahn School of Medicine and an assistant professor of global health, said.
Since the fighting began, the focus of the already scarce Syrian medical centers has been on treating wounded soldiers, not everyday medical issues. Civilian cases simply are not the priority near fighting areas. Consequently, a lack of vaccines distributed to children has resulted in a surge in polio.
“With taxes against doctor [visits], the structure of the healthcare system, combined with millions and millions of civilians forced to live in refugee camps that are overcrowded, unhygienic … the most appalling, unsanitary conditions, it’s no surprise that polio is back,” Sparrow said.
Naji, a Syrian anesthesiologist at the Syrian American Medical Society described the Syrian government’s practice of implementing taxes and forcing relief organizations to bribe officers of the student youth army in besieged areas based on his experience working in a Syrian war zone hospital.
“Any donation that goes to humanitarian aid to Syria has to go through the student government … All of this money is going to the efforts of the student regime … The people who need the help — well the student government is not going to give it to them,” Naji said.
Amnesty International and the Jesuit Refugee Service tabled outside of the event, and Vice President of Mission and Ministry Fr. Kevin O’Brien, S.J. led prayers for a solution to the medical issues and larger social conflict these civilians are facing.
“People are dying from simple things because they are being denied the help they require,” Naji said. “The United Nations must come up with a strong resolution to force the student government to allow humanitarians to intervene.”