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Published On: Wed, Jun 5th, 2013

As Syria’s health system crumbles, health officials are ‘deeply concerned’ about risk of potential outbreaks: WHO

With the ongoing armed conflict and chaos in Syria between forces loyal to the Syrian Ba’ath Party government and those seeking to oust it going  past two years and counting and the crumbling of the country’s health care infrastructure, UN health officials are “deeply concerned” this will create a potential risk of outbreaks.

Phlebotomus papatasi sand fly--a vector of leishmaniasis Image/CDC

Phlebotomus papatasi sand fly–a vector of leishmaniasis
Image/CDC

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), over the past two years, Syria’s health system has been severely disrupted. At least 35% of the country’s public hospitals are out of service, and in some governorates, up to 70% of the health workforce has fled, resulting in severe shortages in qualified health personnel, limiting availability for those in need of health care services.

In addition, Almost 4.25 million internally-displaced Syrians who have relocated to less volatile areas are mostly living in overcrowded, unsanitary conditions. The provision of safe drinking water and safe sanitation has been disrupted, and there are challenges in implementing vaccination campaigns and vector control programs. Hence, the fear of infectious disease epidemics.

“All the risk factors that enhance the transmission of communicable diseases in emergencies are present in the current crisis in Syria and its neighboring countries,” said Dr Jaouad Mahjour, Director of the Department for Communicable Diseases at WHO’s Regional Office for the Eastern Mediterranean. “We are anticipating a number of public health risks from water-borne diseases, specifically hepatitis, typhoid, cholera and dysentery. Given the scale of population movement both inside Syria and across borders, together with deteriorating environmental health conditions, outbreaks are inevitable.”

In fact, increases in acute watery diarrhea, hepatitis A and typhoid fever has already been seen.

New cases of vaccine-preventable diseases such as measles have also reappeared in Syria due to a drop in national vaccination coverage from 95% in 2010 to an estimated 45% in 2013.

With the internal movement of people in Syria, health officials are seeing cases of cutaneous leishmaniasis in areas of the country where the disease was previously unreported.

With thousands of Syrians crossing the borders each day, diseases that are prevalent inside Syria are being transmitted to neighbouring countries. Measles, tuberculosis and cutaneous leishmaniasis have been reported among displaced Syrians in Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq and Turkey. “Jordan had previously reported zero cases of measles for 3 years, and was planning to officially declare that it was measles-free. The situation will deteriorate if prevention and control measures are not scaled up soon,” said Dr Mahjour.

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About the Author

- Writer, Co-Founder and Executive Editor of The Global Dispatch. Robert has been covering news in the areas of health, world news and politics for a variety of online news sources. He is also the Editor-in-Chief of the website, Outbreak News Today and hosts the podcast, Outbreak News Interviews on iTunes, Stitcher and Spotify Robert is politically Independent and a born again Christian Follow @bactiman63

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