Syria

They are bombing babies in Aleppo-- It is time to make them stop

(Credit: SAMS)

(Credit: SAMS)

I am a general surgeon in Aleppo City, on the front lines of the Syrian conflict. This past month has seen an escalation of aerial bombardment on Aleppo that has brought the city to a tipping point of desperation. 

Over the past two months there has been a tenfold increase on airstrikes on my town, with 600 strikes this week alone.

Last Wednesday, one of these rockets tore through an infant care ward in Aleppo. Nine newborns were rushed to the basement of the hospital for safety, their incubators destroyed.

It is a miracle they were unharmed. The organization Physicians for Human Rights has recorded 365 attacks on medical facilities and health workers between March 2011 and April 2016.

Just last Tuesday the hospital where I work, one of the few remaining in eastern Aleppo, was targeted in an airstrike – the second such attack in two weeks.

Deliberate and shameful attacks like these put at risk not just doctors, but the more than 18,000 patients we treat and the 125 babies we deliver each month.

I have been a practicing physician in Aleppo City since 2012 and I am still in awe of the magic of bringing a baby into the world.

There is nothing like it - those first breaths, those first cries. The look in a mother’s eyes, having labored to bring this small person into the world.

It should be a moment of peace, gratitude and quiet joy -- but in Syria today, giving birth is a nightmare.

For 80 years international humanitarian law has deemed hospitals hallowed bastions of safety. In Syria they have now become targets, as has everyone who bravely continues working in them. Our patients -- pregnant mothers, the sick, wounded and elderly - now risk their very lives to seek care.

These are no accidents. In the past two months alone 17 medical facilities have been attacked, leaving a mere seven hospitals to care for Aleppo’s nearly 400,000 residents.

We have but 18 incubators left for Aleppo’s newborns.

And while the skies remain perilous, intermittent closures of Aleppo’s principal access road has impeded the delivery of essential humanitarian aid.

Surrounded on all sides and attacked from above, we are running out of time, supplies, doctors and hope.

Last week we received a mother and her four children injured in an airstrike. While the children were left with broken bones, their mother was far worse. With multiple internal injuries and numerous shrapnel wounds there was little we could do.

In a desperate bid to save her life we tried to rush her to a specialty hospital in Turkey. But the violence along Aleppo’s main access road made the journey impossible.

She died in our care, her children refusing to leave her side. She would be here if we could have made it to Turkey.

Exhaustion cannot even begin to describe the weariness of my medical colleagues and I.

As physicians we have a sworn responsibility to be strong for our patients – they are our neighbors, friends, colleagues, and increasingly the victims of this brutal and depraved campaign. But the bombs have taken their toll, and there are but a few of us to be strong for our communities.

On May 3, the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution calling for a halt to strikes on health care worldwide, calling on all countries to prevent such attacks and, if unable to prevent them, to investigate them and prosecute the perpetrators.

We have not seen the attacks stop; we have seen them increase. We have not heard of an investigation; we have heard a deathly silence.

In February, the International Syrian Support Group—a group of 20 countries, including the U.S. and Russia-- negotiated a cessation of hostilities that, though imperfect, offered a ray of hope to the people of Syria.

In many places the guns fell silent, if only briefly. Some people reported hearing the sound of birds singing again.

Aleppo has not been so lucky. It is far past time that Syria’s ceasefire be renewed and extended to my city.

These attacks cannot be allowed to continue.

Each explosion is an admission of failure by the international community to offer real civilian protection in Syria.

With scant outcry, the offensive in Aleppo threatens to destroy what is left of our medical infrastructure, along with countless lives.

It is with a hopeless optimism that we once again turn to the international community to do something to stop this before it is too late.

Enough babies and their mothers have died.

Osama Abo El Ezz, a general surgeon, is Aleppo Coordinator for the Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS), a non-profit, non-political, professional and medical relief organization