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Child death rate triples in Al-Hol camp as medical access deteriorates

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Save the Children
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Eight children under five died in Al Hol camp within five days, as health and nutrition services have rapidly declined. The spike in under-five mortality was recorded between 6 – 10 August, and is more than three times higher than the mortality rate since the beginning of 2020.

Fears of a possible COVID-19 outbreak following a spike in cases across North East Syria, coupled with reduced humanitarian access since the beginning of the year due to the restriction in cross border points, has reduced the capacity of operational health facilities by 40%. Only one out of three field hospitals remain operational, and even then is running a reduced service.

Among the eight children to have died were two Iraqi children, one Syrian child and at least three of foreign nationalities. Their deaths were linked to causes such as heart failure, internal bleeding and severe malnutrition and could have been treated at field hospitals, were they operational. Reduced medical resources including limitations on nutritional screening could lead to further preventable child deaths, Save the Children is warning today.

“We are seeing a collective failure at all levels to protect children”, said Save the Children Syria Response Director, Sonia Khush. “This is the result of ongoing failure of the UN Security Council to reopen the closest border-crossing, leading to unforgivable delays in services at the time when children need them most. The camp is on the brink of a COVID-19 outbreak, with reduced medical facilities available and a lack of protective equipment for staff to operate safely.

“In Al-Hol, the consequence of this is the tragic and preventable death of eight children, who may otherwise have received the treatment they needed to survive– we cannot allow the death toll to continue to rise.” Khush added.

“Immediate actions by all parties must be taken to prevent further tragedies,” said Khush* “UN cross-border operations in North East Syria must be reinstated immediately and access inside the camp must be urgently improved. It is vital that health teams are able to test and isolate those suspected of having Covid-19, so that drastic measures – like closing health facilities that provide lifesaving treatment for children – do not have to happen”,* she added.

Al-Hol camp is home to more than 65,000 Syrian, Iraqi and ‘third-country’ nationals from more than 60 countries from all regions of the world, 70 per cent of whom are children.

“While health partners are working intensively to ensure provision for all basic health services and resume operations, the restrictions in movement across the camp and the limited availability of skilled personnel to replace those who fall ill of COVID-19, such as health workers who may be quarantined, is a daunting challenge,” She added.

Save the Children is calling on countries of origin to urgently and safely repatriate children of foreign nationals and their families, in line with their obligations set out in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Notes to editors:

  • According to Health Partners in Al-Hol, North East Syria, the death rate of children under 5 was 2.5 deaths per week in Al Hol in the first half of this year1
  • Of the 24 health facilities in Al-Hol Camp, only 15 are operational. In addition, two out of three field hospitals are closed, with the remaining one operating at a reduced service