SYRIA: Child Death Rate Triples in Al-Hol Camp as Medical Access Deteriorates

FAIRFIELD, Conn. (August 13, 2020)— Eight children under five died in Al Hol camp within five days, as health and nutrition services have deteriorated rapidly. The spike in under-five mortality was recorded between August 6-10, and is more than three times higher than the mortality rate since the beginning of 2020.

Fears of a possible COVID-19 outbreak following a spike in cases across North-East Syria, coupled with reduced humanitarian access since the beginning of the year following the restriction in cross border points has reduced the capacity of operational health facilities by 40 percent, leaving only one out of three field hospitals operational, and even then running a reduced service.

Among the eight children to have died were two Iraqi children, one Syrian child, and at least three of foreign nationalities. Their deaths were linked to causes such as heart failure, internal bleeding, and severe malnutrition and could have been treated at field hospitals, were they operational. Reduced medical resources, including limitations on nutrition screening, could lead to further preventable child deaths, Save the Children is warning today.

“We are seeing a collective failure at all levels to protect children,” said Sonia Khush, Save the Children Syria Response Director. “This is the result of the UN Security Council’s ongoing failure to reopen the closest border-crossing, leading to unforgivable delays in services when children need them most. The camp is on the brink of a COVID-19 outbreak, with reduced medical facilities available and a lack of protective equipment for staff to operate safely.

“In Al-Hol, the consequence of this is the tragic and preventable death of eight children, who may otherwise have received the treatment they needed to survive– we cannot allow the death toll to continue to rise,” Khush added.

“Immediate actions by all parties must be taken to prevent further tragedies,” said Khush. “UN cross-border operations in North-East Syria must be reinstated immediately, and access inside the camp must be urgently improved. It is vital that health and nutrition teams are able to test and isolate those suspected of having Covid-19 so that drastic measures – like closing health facilities that provide lifesaving treatment for children – do not have to happen,” she added.

Al Hol camp is home to more than 65,000 Syrian, Iraqi, and ‘third-country’ nationals from more than 60 countries from all regions of the world, 70 percent of whom are children.

“While health partners are working intensively to ensure provision for all basic health services and resume operations, the limitation in movement across the camp is a daunting challenge. As is the limited availability of skilled personnel to replace health workers quarantining or who’ve fallen ill of COVID-19,” Khush added.

Save the Children is calling on countries of origin to urgently and safely repatriate children of foreign nationals and their families, in line with their obligations set out in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. 

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