Syrian doctors make unprecedented plea for underground hospitals as attacks increase

11 May 2017 — A coalition of the leading Syrian medical groups today called on donor governments to begin funding the construction of underground hospitals, after the number of attacks on medical facilities increased dramatically in April.

A new report released today by The Syria Campaign and 13 Syrian medical organizations explains how fortifying hospitals is one of the most effective ways of protecting Syrian medics, but criticizes donor governments like the US and UK for refusing to allocate necessary support due to rigid funding regulations.

Dr. Farida, the last OB/GYN to remain in East Aleppo before the forced displacement of the city, said: “The only way to protect medical staff is under the ground. There is no other way. Other than to stop the airstrikes on hospitals.”

In the introduction to the report, a coalition of Syrian medical groups including the Syrian American Medical Society and Union for Medical Care and Relief Organizations (UOSSM) urges: “We have a narrow window to fortify medical facilities to save lives. We do not want to look back on this moment and wish that we had done more.”

The report, entitled Saving Lives Underground, suggests that re-fortifying priority hospitals across the entire province of Idlib costs less just $750,000 – a fraction of the current aid budget. So far funding for such fortification and underground rebuilding has not been approved by donor governments.

In April 2017, there were 25 attacks on medical facilities in Syria – an average of one attack every 29 hours. All of the 25 attacks were carried out by the Assad regime and its ally Russia.

Kat Fallon from The Syria Campaign said:

“There is only one truly effective way to protect Syrian medics, and that’s stopping the bombs. But while these horrific attacks continue, we must do everything in our power to support the heroic doctors who are building hospitals underground. The fact that our governments have refused to fund these underground hospitals, the number one protection need for Syrian medics, is inexcusable.”

The report explains how doctors and engineers are using ingenuity and skills to protect their medical colleagues and patients in a number of ways, including by building entire hospitals in basements and caves, replacing windows with sandbags, and even training a dog called Rocky to alert doctors when warplanes are approaching so they can take cover in the underground floors.

Over 800 medical workers have been killed in Syria since the start of the conflict, but as the report highlights, no health workers have been killed from an attack while working in a fully underground hospital.

For information or interview requests with Syrian medics, contact Kat Fallon at +1978-505-8231 or [email protected].