COVID-19 deaths spike among Syria medical personnel

BEIRUT, Lebanon (AFP) — The number of COVID-19 deaths among medical personnel in government-held parts of Syria has shot up in recent weeks amid a rise in infections, several sources told AFP.

The capital Damascus has been especially hard hit, with doctors warning of a deteriorating situation in overcrowded hospitals struggling to cope with the influx of patients.

The Syndicate of Doctors in Damascus on July 25 started to publish lists of doctors it said had died while “confronting the coronavirus pandemic”.

Its latest figures say at least 31 Syrian doctors had died since the start of the virus outbreak in the country.

Some of them live abroad, but the vast majority died while inside Syria, a doctor in a Damascus hospital told AFP.

The doctor, who asked not to be named because he is not authorized to speak on the issue, said most of the dead doctors had not been tested for the COVID-19 disease.

“But the symptoms they had shown led us to believe that they died because of the” virus, he said.

“Now we deal with all hospital cases as though they are COVID-19 cases,” the doctor said of the response to the growing outbreak in the capital.

 Years of conflict 

Nine years of war have battered Syria’s health sector, with hospitals damaged by bombing, vital equipment lacking and doctors hurt or forced to flee fighting.

That has set the country up poorly to deal with the coronavirus pandemic, a new type of danger for doctors more accustomed to dealing with trauma wounds and victims used to huddling together under bombs, not keeping apart.

Authorities in government-held areas have confirmed 1,677 COVID-19 cases, including 64 deaths — but the health ministry admitted last month that it lacks the “capacity… to carry out widespread testing in the provinces”.

Doctors in Damascus say the official case numbers reflect only those tested, not infected individuals who may be staying at home.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), citing the Syrian health ministry, has said that 69 healthcare workers (four percent of reported cases) had tested positive for COVID-19 across government-held parts of Syria.

“This highlights the particular risks faced by healthcare workers,” OCHA said.

The UN agency, which has an office in Damascus, mentioned unconfirmed reports of a spike in COVID-19 deaths and that public facilities are packed and unable to admit new patients, but it said it was not in a position to verify them.

A Facebook page founded by Syrian doctor and followed by 150,000 people has published a list of 55 Syrian doctors and pharmacists that have died in recent days.

At least 10 of them have died abroad, according to one of the page’s administrators.

© Agence France-Presse