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Conflict-related excess mortality and disability in Northwest Syria

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Omar Alrashid Alhiraki, Ola Fahham, Hussam Alden Dubies, Jawad Abou Hatab, Muhammad Eyad Ba'Ath


Introduction The Syrian conflict that started in 2011 has been ongoing for over a decade without an end in sight. Estimates regarding excess mortality and conflict-related disability vary widely, and little field research has been done to address this topic.

Methods A population-based field survey was conducted from 10 to 18 November 2020 in Northwest Syria. Forty-nine clusters were selected using staged sampling based on predefined population distribution maps. Data were collected for the period from 2000 to 2020 and were divided into pre-conflict (2000–2010) and conflict (2011–2020) periods. Mortality rates were compared using the Mann-Whitney U test, and p<0.05 was considered statistically significant.

Results A total of 1483 households were surveyed, for a population of 12 268 people. The crude mortality rate increased 3.55 times between the two periods (p>0.001). In total, 54.3% of war-related deaths were caused by aerial attacks. Despite the continued increase in mortality rates during the conflict period, most deaths from 2017 onwards were related to non-violent causes. Overall, directly and indirectly, the conflict seems to have caused approximately 874 000 excess deaths. A total of 14.9% of households reported having at least one substantial violence-related disability since 2011.

Conclusion The conflict caused the tripling of mortality rates in Syria. The estimated excess mortality in our study is higher than previous estimates. From 2017 onwards, most conflict-related deaths were due to non-violent causes. There is a high prevalence of violence-related disabilities in the studied communities. Our data could prove useful for health policymakers.