As I read about the latest in a string of attacks on Syrian field hospitals and medical staff – this time a car bomb that killed 14 people and wounded 70 in a Syrian town on the Turkish border – the classic and morbid U2 song, which memorializes violence against civilian protesters in Northern Ireland, echoed in my head. Now it’s another continent, decades later, but still we feel helpless in the face of such brutality against civilians who are merely trying to survive a protracted and catastrophic conflict. Fortunately, friends and colleagues of Physicians for Human Rights in the targeted area are safe – for now.
The Orient Foundation, which runs the hospital, has accused the Assad regime of deliberately targeting the facility and affirmed that its patients, doctors, and nurses were among the casualties.
PHR and other organizations are documenting the ongoing assault on Syria’s medical community, which is unprecedented in terms of its calculated cruelty against medical personnel. Since the war began in 2011, hospitals, field clinics, ambulances, and vehicles transporting medicine and medical supplies have been deliberately targeted by government and opposition forces. Medical personnel have been arrested, tortured, executed, and “disappeared.” These crimes against the principle of medical neutrality – which ensures safe access to medical facilities, protects health care workers and their patients, and allows medical workers to provide unbiased care – have compounded the suffering of civilians and hastened the devastation of an already fragile health care system.
The attack on Orient hospital has forced staff to rush patients to other facilities in Syria and Turkey – facilities that also lack resources and are vulnerable to the same kinds of attacks. We have learned that medical colleagues in nearby hospitals are bracing for the worst as they prepare to receive more patients in hospitals lacking everything from personnel to medicine to stable electricity. Their commitment to their patients and to the Syrian people as a whole is iron-clad. They already work 24-hour shifts as shells whistle down and gunfire erupts around them. I wonder how they could possibly do more, work longer, and help additional patients in such devastating and dangerous circumstances, but I know they will. That is who they are. These are the doctors, nurses, and medical staff my colleagues and I are proud to work with and support.