Northwest Syria: Shortages of Oxygen, Water as Coronavirus Cases Quadruple in Two Months

FAIRFIELD, Conn. (Jan. 6, 2021)—The COVID-19 outbreak in Syria continues to spiral out of control while the country struggles with a chronic shortage of hospital beds, testing, water, and oxygen, Save the Children warned today. The northwest is particularly hard hit, as the number of confirmed cases quadrupled in two months.

As parents have fallen ill or lost livelihoods and children have been forced out of school, the impact of COVID-19 has compounded the struggle for children already facing ongoing conflict, hunger, and displacement.

Across Syria, the number of confirmed cases has exceeded 40,000, with 1,355 deaths officially recorded. More than half of the cases, or 20,338, are in northwest Syria alone, and  8,100 in the northeast. The numbers are likely to be an underestimate as the country struggles with insufficient testing and a lack of medical supplies.

In the northwest, the number of infected people quadrupled between November 1 and December 31. Yet only four additional ventilators and 64 ICU beds have become available in the region since March, bringing the total to 157 breathing machines and 212 beds. In the northeast, a partial lockdown announced in November has been extended for another 15 days as the virus sweeps across the region.

Nadine,* an English teacher in Idlib, said: “Corona is not just a virus causing harm to people, it is wreaking havoc in the society, taking your loved ones away from you. My experience with the virus is a difficult one. My health wasn’t hurt, but some of my relatives have lived through the pain. It is unbearable [to watch]  the hours go by while your mother is struggling to breathe—and you know you can’t do anything. That feeling of helplessness is the toughest when your family is going through this.”

Save the Children’s Syria Response Director, Sonia Khush, said: “There is every reason to believe that the situation is much worse than the numbers tell us. But even with the data that we currently have, it is clear that the numbers of COVID-19 cases are increasing far more rapidly than the limited capacity of the health and hygiene sectors in Syria.

“Even countries with the most advanced healthcare systems are struggling to tackle this recent surge in cases. Imagine what it is like for displaced families in an overcrowded camp with no access to treatment or protection, who do not know whether to escape from the ongoing hostilities or find protection from a deadly pandemic. Vulnerable families and their children will suffer the most as they are plunged even deeper into poverty. The impact of COVID-19 and poverty will make this a very long winter for those communities.”

Save the Children is calling on parties to the conflict to enact a comprehensive cessation of hostilities to allow children and their families a reprieve from the violence while trying to find ways to protect themselves from the spread of COVID-19.

The global humanitarian organization is also calling on donors to increase their funding to support families in need in northwest Syria, as they battle COVID-19 and ongoing conflict in an area that has seen a decade of conflict and destruction, to allow children a safe return to education.

*Name has been changed

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