Syria's medical infrastructure is on the "brink of collapse", with more than half of the country's hospitals already destroyed or damaged in the civil war, a group of 50 leading health care experts have warned.
They urged all combatants to spare hospitals and to allow doctors and nurses to operate freely without fear of attack and reprisals. "Systematic assaults on medical professionals, facilities and patients are breaking Syria's health-care system and making it nearly impossible for civilians to receive essential medical services," they said in an open letter in The Lancet.
The group included a former head of the World Health Organisation, the chiefs of major aid agencies and three Nobel Prize winners. In less than three years of civil war, 37% of Syrian hospitals have been destroyed, and a further 20% severely damaged, WHO figures revealed.
The letter went on to say that of the 5,000 physicians in Aleppo before the conflict started, only 36 remain. In all, 15,000 doctors have fled the country. Many civilians are forced to seek recourse to primitive field hospitals, often somebody's living room, run by local volunteers, often with only the most basic of medicines and training. During the civil uprising in 2011 the Syrian regime arrested, and tortured, doctors who treated wounded opposition activists.
Later, medical staff and facilities were targeted, both by regime air strikes, and by armed rebel groups.