In the wake of devastating earthquakes that struck northwestern Syria six months ago, the healthcare sector in the region is grappling with ongoing challenges, exacerbated by a shortage of aid from international organizations. The earthquakes, which had their epicenters just across the border in southeastern Turkey, resulted in over 4,000 deaths in Syria, along with approximately 50,000 fatalities in Turkey. To address the urgent medical needs arising from this disaster, the Amanos Hospital was established on the outskirts of Afrin, built solely from tents as a safer alternative to already destabilized structures vulnerable to aftershocks.
The Amanos Hospital, constructed from tents, has a capacity of 112 beds distributed across several sterilized tents, as well as operating rooms, an emergency department, a radiology department, clinics, and a laboratory. While the hospital’s primary goal was to provide a safer environment during natural disasters, its unique design also allows for easier relocation to a safer place, a crucial consideration given the ongoing conflict in Syria. Dr. Osama Darwish, the director of the Amanos Hospital, indicated that plans are in place to expand the facility by adding caravans or constructing a more permanent structure to offer additional services required in the area.
However, the healthcare sector in northwestern Syria remains plagued by gaps and a scarcity of aid. Dr. Zuhair al-Qarrat, the head of the Idlib Health Directorate, stressed the need for modern medical equipment, quality medications, and sufficient training for healthcare workers. Although hospitals and medical centers in Idlib received some aid after the earthquakes, it only covered a fraction of the health sector’s needs, leaving significant gaps in services. The closure of the Bab al-Hawa border crossing between Syria and Turkey has further worsened the health situation, especially for cancer patients seeking treatment.
Cancer patients in northwestern Syria face significant challenges in accessing proper treatment. Many have traditionally traveled to Turkey for care, but the earthquakes exacerbated the situation. Turkish authorities temporarily suspended entry for Syrian cancer patients, citing the need to focus on earthquake recovery efforts. While entry was eventually restored for pre-existing patients, new cancer patients diagnosed after the earthquakes continue to face obstacles. Medical sources estimate that over 600 new patients are affected, some of whom have lost their lives while awaiting permission to enter Turkey for treatment.
Dr. Ayham Jamou, director of the Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS) Oncology Department at Idlib Central Hospital, highlighted the limitations faced by medical facilities in the region due to the unavailability of radiation devices and expensive immunotherapy treatments. The SAMS Cancer Treatment Center is currently limited to diagnosing new cases and providing available chemotherapy for free, making it the only facility offering such care in northwest Syria. Activists, medical professionals, and humanitarian organizations have staged protests near the Bab al-Hawa border crossing, urging international action to facilitate the treatment of cancer patients in opposition-controlled areas of Syria.
Responding to these pleas, the Turkish government allowed cancer patients with permission to cross the border to receive free treatment within its territory. This move has brought hope to patients like 17-year-old Hala al-Ahmad, who was displaced from Aleppo and has been battling kidney cancer for two years. Although the reopening of the border crossing for cancer patients to receive treatment has given her hope, delays in scheduling entry to Turkey have left her anxious about her future.
In the midst of ongoing challenges stemming from both earthquakes and the long-standing conflict, healthcare facilities in northwestern Syria are struggling to meet the diverse and pressing needs of the population. The unique design of the Amanos Hospital, constructed from tents, serves as a testament to the resilience and resourcefulness of healthcare professionals in the region. Yet, significant gaps in resources and aid continue to hinder the provision of adequate medical care, particularly for cancer patients who are grappling with both their illnesses and the complexities of the region’s geopolitical situation.