Illness pushing up death toll in Syria

People dying from long-term illnesses means the true death toll in the Syria conflict is far higher than the reported 70,000, the Disasters Emergency Committee has warned today.

It says deaths from diabetes, heart conditions and other chronic illnesses are going uncounted in the conflict.

The DEC attributes many of the deaths to the collapse of Syria's healthcare system.

A third of hospitals are out of action and production has halted at ninety per cent of drug manufacturing facilities.

Most of the facilities are located in Aleppo and close to Damascus, both areas that have seen some of the worst fighting.

The fall out is "desperately" low supplies of insulin, oxygen, anaesthetics and intravenous fluids. Specialist care like dialysis and chemotherapy has become largely unavailable.

Julia Brothwell from British Red Cross recently visited a hospital in one suburb of Damascus. She said: "At the clinic we were shown a room containing eight dialysis machines; each one fully occupied.

"Normally patients would have three treatments a week; at this clinic the patients are down to one treatment per week, each lasting around four hours.

"That's sixteen patients a day, 112 patients a week and still there are 40 patients on the waiting list.

"There is no chance that any of them will receive a new kidney unless they leave Syria and most are now too ill, or too poor, to do that."

Clinics are also suffering from a lack of fuel, power and staffing, with some doctors arrested or killed. Others have fled the country.

There are reports of some clinics where up to half the deaths have been due to normally treatable conditions.

Elizabeth Berryman, Merlin Health Advisor for Asia and the Middle East said: "Two years ago Syria was not a country where diabetes would be life threatening but the war has all but destroyed health services.

"If the fighting were to stop tomorrow we would be looking at ten to fifteen years to rebuild the health system and months, maybe years to repair the damage to people's health – for some it will be too late.

"Aid agencies desperately need funding to be able deliver the full range of essential medical services."

Saleh Saeed, chief executive of the DEC said: "The collapse of Syria's healthcare system means many people are dying as an indirect consequence of the fighting. These people are also victims of the conflict."