A report by the Independent’s Kim Sengupta from Aleppo in Syria, details the ordeals many doctors are facing treating civilians injured by the government bombardment of the city.
“Among those killed were doctors. The burned bodies of three of them – Basel Aslam, Moussab Barad and Hazim Batikh – were found a few days after their arrest by the Mukhbarat, the secret police, at the end of June. They were all young and had been working in the poorer sections of the city. Later a pharmacist, Abdel Baset Arja, died while in detention. All had been accused of helping terrorists; their real crime, say the opposition, was to treat victims of the regime; the executions a warning to colleagues not to make the same mistake .
Many medics have taken heed. The director of a hospital very near the fiercest frontline of the city described to The Independent the frustration of not being able to get his staff to work at such a desperate time. Dr Mohammed Ahmed – not his full name – said: “I am not blaming them, people are very scared, for themselves, for their families. Some are too scared even to talk to me on the phone. I called 19 people and only two even answered. They do not want things like that on their record if Assad, Allah protect us, returns. Arja, the fourth man they killed, did not even come to the hospital, he was just selling us medicine.”
The conditions, even for a conflict zone, were grim at the hospital. There is never enough of a stock of medicine and the power supply, with a shortage of fuel for generators, fluctuate. In addition to coping with the medical problems the hospital faces the very real danger posed by this brutal conflict, it has been targeted from missile and mortar attacks half a dozen times in the last two weeks. The background noise of explosions, helicopters and ambulances careering around on streets of rubble were reminders of just how critical the situation was on the outside.
The hospital is treating around 50 patients a day, almost all of them injured due to the fighting. At present it has five doctors and two nurses working a rota. Dr Ahmed, an orthopaedic surgeon, the only specialist, says: “We really need around 12 doctors, some with specialisation, and two nurses per doctors. So you see how difficult it is to deal with complicated cases.”
Hazem al-Halali – another adopted name – graduated from the hospital and decided to stay and help in Aleppo rather than return to his home in Damascus. He is a member of a group of doctors called Noor Al-Hayat (Light of Life) working in areas which had seen the worst violence during the revolution.
The three doctors who were killed were fellow members of Noor and Dr Halali is now believed to be on a Mukhabarat death list. “I am a single man and if Aleppo falls to the regime, I’ll just go somewhere else in Syria, not outside the country, but in Syria. There is no question of leaving Aleppo for the time being, there are few enough doctors as it is. The Government would like us to die, or if that does not happen, just go away”, he said.
“They have told us not to treat people here, to send them to the government hospital. But a lot of people don’t want to go, they think they might be arrested or killed. We are talking about ordinary people here, not revolutionary fighters.”