A Secret Hospital in Syria

Over the past two months, as the carnage has continued, Medecins Sans Frontieres has secretly been providing emergency care to people in Aleppo and the surrounding provinces.

By Ruth Sherlock

Medecins Sans Frontieres has been secretly operating a field hospital in Syria for the last two months, with doctors performing hundreds of life-saving operations on those caught up in the conflict, the organization disclosed.

The state-of-the-art medical center, which is equipped with an emergency room, operating theater, and resuscitation area, was built in a rebel-held area in the country’s north. It opened its doors in late June after many months of planning and difficult missions to smuggle the medical equipment into the country.

A team of seven MSF medics, including surgeons and anaesthetists, together with 50 Syrian staff, has been working there to provide emergency medical care to casualties of the war raging in Syria’s second city of Aleppo—the focus of the country’s civil war—and the surrounding provinces.

The complex is disguised so that from the outside, it looks no different to a civilian home. Its precise location is being kept secret amid fears it could be targeted by regime forces.

MSF however, decided to go public about its existence yesterday to highlight what the charity described as the “desperate” health situation in Syria and to appeal for help to end the conflict there.

“Really, enough is enough. Both [the Syrian regime and the opposition] are increasingly relying on violence to achieve their aims,” said Brian Moller, an emergency-room coordinator and anaesthetist nurse for MSF, who led the hospital team for the month of July.

“The health situation in Syria is desperate. We need to open up humanitarian access routes, especially to Aleppo. It is time to speak up and say we need a political solution.”

The center, which has been declared illegal by the Syrian regime, has so far carried out 150 operations on wounded rebel fighters and civilians, including women and children. Wounds inflicted on victims of the violence have worsened since the July rebel bomb attack that killed members of President Bashar al-Assad’s inner circle.

The charity, also known Doctors Without Borders, said it was seeing more injuries from tank shelling, aerial bombardment, and heavy artillery than at any other time during the 17-month conflict, which has already killed 18,000 people.

“The natures of the injuries [that we are seeing] are horrific,” Moller added.“This is not your Hollywood gunshot wound through the shoulder. We have victims of tank fire, cannon shells, aerial bombardments.”

Many of the deaths in Syria have been the result of poor access to medical care, with patients often having to make a grueling journey across the Syrian border into neighboring countries for treatment.

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“Both the civilians and Free Syrian Army rebels that I spoke to in Syria want to know where the world is,” continued Moller. Even in terms of medical response there has been almost no intervention. “MSF is the only foreign-aid agency that has maintained a presence on the ground in Syria,” he said.

U.S. officials yesterday said that the conflict had turned Syria into one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises, exacerbated by attacks on aid workers.

“There are 2.5 million people in need of aid now inside Syria, and 1.2 million have been displaced from their homes,” said a senior State Department official.