Hundreds of thousands of lives could be lost to Coronavirus in Syria unless WHO acts fast


  • Approximately 100,000 detainees held in unsanitary underground prisons with no access to healthcare

  • Water scarcity and overcrowding in northwest Syria offers no protection to most vulnerable putting an additional 100,000 at risk


The Idlib Health Directorate warns that 100,000 people might die in northwest Syria unless the World Health Organisation provides urgently-needed ventilators, protective gear for medical staff and hand sanitiser to overcrowded camps.


The health service in Syria has been shattered by nine years of war and medical supplies are scarce or non-existent. In Idlib, there are 105 intensive care beds and 30 ventilators for 3.2 million civilians. Almost all of the beds are already being used by patients with serious illnesses.


The head of Idlib’s Health Directorate Dr Munzer al-Khalil said:

“In one year, we lost around 76 health facilities in northwest Syria. Donors have cut their funds and medical staff have been killed, arrested or displaced. The health sector in Idlib cannot cope with the inevitable outbreak and we fear 100,000 people could die unless we get supplies immediately.


“Our ventilators are always 100% occupied and we don’t have one single bed ready for a Corona case today. Camps are the perfect breeding ground for the virus and 400% overcapacity, with ten or more people sharing one tent. People don’t have enough water for drinking, let alone washing their hands.”


Families for Freedom, which campaigns for freedom and justice for Syria’s detainees, said that they are terrified of Coronavirus spreading into Assad’s underground detention dungeons. Across Syria, tens of thousands of detainees are crowded into squalid, unventilated cells. Their immune systems are exhausted by the regime’s systemic torture and mistreatment.


Dr Hala al-Ghawi of Families for Freedom said: “The Syrian regime who took our loved ones from us has no interest in protecting detainees. The world realises that COVID-19 can be deadly for those with compromised immune systems and the elderly but what about those who are broken down by starvation, torture, and who are left to face this virus alone?


“The UN Special Envoy for Syria must demand the immediate release of all detainees held in Assad’s prisons and unofficial detention centres. At the very least, international health organisations, such as the WHO, must have regular access to detention facilities in order to provide critical sanitary measures and medical treatment to detainees.”


In Idlib, a task force led by WHO has been set up and is preparing three hospitals to receive coronavirus cases, and equipping 28 isolation centres to receive cases. The Idlib Health Directorate is working with the White Helmets and medical organisations to raise awareness and provide advice to people in an effort to slow the spread of the virus.


Executive Director of The Syria Campaign Laila Kiki said:

“For as long as so many people remain in overcrowded camps, it will be impossible to contain any outbreak of Coronavirus. A true sustainable ceasefire will allow some of the one million people displaced since December to return to their homes and stay home.”


There has not yet been a confirmed case of the virus in northwest Syria but with cases in neighbouring countries and four cases in Damascus, the conditions in camps and detention centres, it is only a matter of time before people start losing their lives.