One of the greatest challenges Syrians faced during the siege of Eastern Aleppo was the scarcity of medical supplies. This difficulty was compounded in November 2016, when the Syrian regime and its allies destroyed every last hospital in the city. The following month, in December, the regime successfully recaptured Eastern Aleppo from opposition forces and expelled its residents to Idlib—one of the last remaining rebel strongholds in the country.
Although Aleppans in Idlib are now able to find the medical facilities their demolished city was stripped of, access continues to be very limited. With nearly 40,000 new residents in Idlib, as a result of Eastern Aleppo’s evacuation, doctors who once struggled to keep up with the number of patients are now finding it impossible to do even the most basic medical procedures. According to Al Jazeera, Idlib’s hospitals are simply “overwhelmed by the influx of wounded Aleppans…[who] are suffering from infected shrapnel wounds, hypothermia and malnutrition. Surgeons are operating for up to 12 hours a day, and medical facilities are running at double capacity.”
Like Aleppo, Idlib has been ruined by years of bombardment. Much of its infrastructure has been reduced to a collection of dust and rubble, and many of its hospitals have either been severely damaged or completely destroyed by the regime and its allies. Many doctors in Idlib have been forced to work in ad-hoc medical stations built underground. The few hospitals that continue to operate are in extremely poor condition and do not meet basic levels of hygiene and safety, leaving patients at high risk for infection—particularly during longer operations.
The recent countrywide ceasefire, negotiated by Turkey and Russia, has allowed doctors and medical staff in Idlib to carry out their work without fear of aerial bombardment. Practically speaking, however, this does absolutely nothing to assuage the disastrous condition of the city’s hospitals. Since all previous ceasefires have eventually collapsed—even the one negotiated in September 2016 by the United States and Russia—the medical situation in Idlib could deteriorate again, soon.
In fact, as Al Jazeera reports, “pockets of violence” between regime forces and rebels continue in Idlib and Hama despite the ceasefire—a potential indication that the truce is likely to collapse in the near future. If this happens, Idlib will likely follow Aleppo’s fate and become another kill-box where all hospitals are ultimately destroyed. Even if the ceasefire holds, it will take many years for the residents of Idlib to rebuild their hospitals and fix their infrastructure.
The medical situation in the Gaza Strip provides a close parallel to the reality facing Idlib and other cities in Syria. Nearly two and a half years since Israel brutally razed the Palestinian enclave during Operation Protective Edge, Gazans are still struggling to rebuild their hospitals and adequately address their healthcare crisis. Despite a break in active hostilities, Gazans remain victims of overpopulated hospitals, understocked supplies, and subpar medical care overall. It is difficult to imagine how life for Syrians will be much better.
Before Aleppo’s fall, the UN described the city as a “complete meltdown of humanity.” No other description better captures the current state of Syrian hospitals, which are, through and through, a reflection of one of the most catastrophic conflicts in modern history.