If coronavirus reaches NW Syria, it will complicate catastrophic situation: MSF

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If the coronavirus pandemic reaches areas in northwest Syria, it would complicate an already catastrophic situation, says a Doctors Without Borders spokesperson as the NGO adapts its activities to prevent the spread of the virus in places like Idlib.

“The situation in NW Syria is very complicated. To give you an idea, we should not forget that 3 weeks ago, we were still in an active armed conflict. So, we were facing a humanitarian emergency, to which organizations like MSF were responding,” said Cristian Reynders, field coordinator for Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) operations northwest Syria.


The situation in the region bordering Turkey remains dire as the World Health Organization said last month that only half of health facilities remained operational in northwest Syria, where fighting has forced about 1 million people to flee since December.

Read more: Only one coronavirus testing machine for millions in Syria’s war-torn Idlib

Syria’s health ministry said on March 29 that a woman who died after being rushed to hospital for emergency treatment was found to have been infected by coronavirus in the country’s first officially reported death from the disease at the time. According to World Meters, the tally count of coronavirus cases in Syria stood at 19 as of April 6.

“Everything that is recommended today, in order to ensure the safe protection and to slow down the spread of the virus cannot be implemented in Idlib. How do you ask people to stay at home? Where is their home? We talk about 900 000 people, the vast majority living under tents in camps,” Reynders said.

Taking precautionary measures

To help prevent the spread of the coronavirus from reaching refugee camps in Idlib, MSF said it has taken precautionary measures like social distancing and equipment medical tents in the camps with the necessary essentials.

“Lately, we have been distancing the different trucks (of the mobile clinics) with approximately 50 meters between them. People also tended to gather in crowds around the trucks, but we told them it important to keep their distance,” said Abdel Karim Mustafa, an MSF health promoter in one of the camps.

Read more: Coronavirus: Syrian artist paints murals in war-torn Idlib to warn of outbreak

“We only accept a maximum of 3 people in the mobile clinic at the same time with distance between them," Mustafa added.

The choices, however, in Idlib would be limited should the coronavirus reach the city, MSF cautioned.

“We are seeing high level public health systems in countries like Italy or Spain and some of them are collapsing in face of this situation. What can we expect from a health system that has already been in difficulty? And the difficulty is a small word, they’ve been completely overstretched and unequipped,” Reynders said.

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