Civilian medical care for is being targeted in Syria's civil war. Hospital and ambulances are being bombed; doctors, nurses and pharmacists are being tortured, imprisoned and killed. While the international community is outraged over 1400 deaths from chemical weapons, thousands more are dying because a sophisticated health system has been destroyed.
Dr Annie Sparrow, an Australian who is the former director of UNICEF's malaria program in Somalia, says in the blog Syria Deeply: "I have never encountered the scale upon which medical neutrality is being violated in Syria. This targeting of medical care has effectively become a weapon of mass destruction."
A group of 55 medical professionals, including Nobel Prize winners and heads of professional associations, have signed an open letter demanding that their colleagues be allowed to treat patients.
"Systematic assaults on medical professionals, facilities and patients are breaking Syria's health-care system and making it nearly impossible for civilians to receive essential medical services. Thirty-seven percent of Syrian hospitals have been destroyed and a further 20 percent severely damaged. Makeshift clinics have become fully fledged trauma centres struggling to cope with the injured and sick. An estimated 469 health workers are currently imprisoned and around 15,000 doctors have been forced to flee abroad. According to one report, there were 5,000 physicians in Aleppo before the conflict started, and only 36 remain.
"The targeted attacks on medical facilities and personnel are deliberate and systematic, not an inevitable nor acceptable consequence of armed conflict. Such attacks are an unconscionable betrayal of the principle of medical neutrality.
"The number of people requiring medical assistance is increasing exponentially, as a direct result of conflict and indirectly because of the deterioration of a once-sophisticated public health system and the lack of adequate curative and preventive care. Horrific injuries are going untended, women are giving birth with no medical assistance, men, women and children are undergoing life-saving surgery without anesthetic, and victims of sexual violence have nowhere to turn to."