Dr Tarraf al-Tarraf / December 17, 2020

Idlib's health system at massive risk because of bombing and now COVID

Photo credit: Syrian American Medical Society – SAMS

Today the coronavirus took two of my friends, Dr Mohamed al-Yousef in Idlib and Dr Abdo Jbara in Damascus. They both had many qualities such as gentleness of character, good-heartedness, and true decency. For us medics we feel such irreplaceable losses.

My name is Dr Tarraf al-Tarraf and I’m a urological surgeon at Idlib’s central hospital, which is one of the biggest hospitals in northwest Syria. It serves the densely populated Idlib city and its surrounding villages where at least 1.5 million people live.

Northern Idlib is overcrowded with displaced people, and now millions live in basic tents in camps near the Turkish border. I myself had to flee my village in Southern Idlib in the winter of 2019 because of the regime’s military assault. At the hospital, around 40 of us doctors work around the clock to help people, and conditions are getting harsher due to the spread of COVID-19. The number of deaths from COVID has been drastically increasing lately and camps are the perfect environment for the virus to thrive.

The health system in Idlib is at massive risk because of bombing and now COVID. It’s on the brink of collapsing if international organizations don’t act fast to support us and provide what we need to face the pandemic.

Our hospital isn’t assigned as a COVID hospital but because the virus is spreading quickly, and we lack medical and human resources, we are receiving COVID cases. We don’t have the oxygen tanks, ICU beds and PPE we need, and many of our medical staff have been infected.

Syrian doctors are falling victim to COVID-19

Dr Abdo Jbara (left) in Damascus and Dr Mohamed Al Yousef (right) in Idlib

As well as responding to an increase in COVID cases, we are constantly receiving and treating injuries caused by the regime’s continuous attacks on southern Idlib around Ariha and Jabal al-Zawiya. Russia and the regime’s brutal bombing has forced tens of hospitals and medical centres out of service. These include Kafranbel Surgical Hospital and Life Pulse hospital in my village Has. These attacks have killed dozens of doctors and medical staff. Sometimes Russia and the regime attack Idlib city directly – a few weeks ago the regime’s artillery bombarded our city, killing a girl and injuring many civilians.

Over the past years we have gained experience on how to deal with the regime’s bombing, but today we are facing another unprecedented threat: the pandemic. We are in desperate need of coming together and joint efforts, regionally and globally. If we don’t act fast, many more lives will be lost.

Our medical workforce is extremely exhausted, both physically and emotionally, ever since the most brutal military campaign on Idlib in 2019. In our hospital alone, the coronavirus has infected almost half of our staff. Their workload has fallen onto the other doctors and nurses.

My colleagues and I live in fear and we are working beyond our capacity. I feel consumed, drained and depleted. I have watched many of my colleagues get sick and I have lived through their suffering.

Today all I can do is give my condolences to the families of my dear friends.