A few months ago, I had the opportunity to see Dr. Khaled Kandil receive an award from the Syrian American Medical Society at their annual conference in Gaziantep, Turkey. He was being honored for establishing the dialysis center at Bab al-Hawa Hospital – one of the few remaining treatment centers in the opposition-held territories in Syria. When he came to the stage to accept the award, I thought perhaps this was not the same gregarious physician I had the pleasure of meeting 18 months earlier at a Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) gathering in Jordan. He was thin and frail – a changed man. He had been battling cancer for some time and it had taken its toll. Dr. Khaled passed away this week and his loss is felt keenly by his family, colleagues, patients, and all of us at PHR who knew him.
Amid the carnage in Syria for almost five years, quietly heroic physicians like Dr. Khaled have continued their lifesaving work in the face of grave risks. Every month PHR adds to the grim tally of medical workers who have been killed in the conflict. As of August 2015, that number stands at 670. While Dr. Khaled will not be added to that list, his death is also tied to this war. We will always wonder if, in peacetime, he could have received a more timely diagnosis and treatment that could have saved his life.
He is a member of a remarkable group of physicians, nurses, medical students, dentists, EMTs, and so many others who have chosen to stay in Syria and be of service to their people. For every one of them we lose, thousands of patients go untreated. As his sister, also a physician, once said to me, “If we leave, who will replace us?”
No one can replace Dr. Khaled, but we will remember him and honor him by continuing to call for an end to the atrocities he spent the end of his life addressing.