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Responding to the COVID-19 Crisis in Syria: A Five Part Approach through ‘Operation Breathe'

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Ten years of conflict has devastated Syria’s health system and displaced over 70% of health workers. Compounding the existing humanitarian crises is COVID-19. The true scope of the COVID-19 outbreak is unknown due to limited testing capacity, underreporting, lack of access to healthcare, and more. However, we know that across the country, the situation has been dire - hospitals in many areas have been completely overwhelmed, and local doctors describe being forced to turn COVID-19 patients away.

As part of our overall COVID-19 response, MedGlobal launched ‘Operation Breathe’ in August 2020 to address multiple aspects of the pandemic in Syria and reduce mortality. Operation Breathe is a model program that centers around health worker protection, meeting immediate and long-term needs, and providing multiple treatment options to increase accessibility of care. This program includes five key components: protecting health workers through provision of PPE, training doctors and nurses in clinical management of COVID-19 patients in emergency settings, building industrial oxygen generator stations to cover the oxygen needs of over 1 million people, building capacity of health facilities to treat COVID patients by providing the most critically needed supplies, and creating comprehensive at-home treatment options in areas where health facility care is inaccessible or unrealistic.

10 Years In: Ongoing Health Crises in Syria

The decade-long conflict in Syria has killed hundreds of thousands of people and created the world’s largest displacement crisis. Destruction of health facilities, the displacement and death of health workers, and fractured health systems have exacerbated the humanitarian situation and severely crippled local and national capacities. Even before the pandemic, the broken health system in Syria was unable to cope with the scale of health emergencies, and particularly lacked the capacity to respond to outbreaks and epidemics, such as polio and cholera.

The protracted conflict has led to a fractured health system - with government controlled areas, the northwest, and the northeast each having distinct governance systems and humanitarian responses. There are about 10 million people in government-controlled areas, 4.2 million in the northwest, and 2.7 million in the northeast - with an additional 5.6 million Syrian refugees, primarily in neighboring countries. Due to the decentralized nature of the health system, NGOs and local health directorates have stepped in to provide services and oversee health campaigns typically led by the national health system.