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Hospitals in Syria have become instruments of suppression, says Amnesty

BMJ 2011; 343 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.d6947 (Published 25 October 2011) Cite this as: BMJ 2011;343:d6947
  1. John Zarocostas
  1. 1Geneva

Intimidation of medical staff by the Syrian government is deterring people injured during protests from seeking help and turning hospitals into instruments of repression, says a report by Amnesty International.

The report, which is based on extensive interviews with medical staff and patients, provides evidence that Syrian protestors wounded while demonstrating against the government have been subjected to torture and other ill treatment, including by medical staff, in at least four state hospitals.

Since the uprising began in March, the report says, “Syrian security officials have had ready access to state run hospitals and are reported to have intimidated health professionals working within them and on occasions to have forcibly removed wounded patients without consideration of their medical needs and without consulting the medical staff treating them.”

The report says that health workers and security forces personnel in the national hospitals in Homs, Tall Kalakh, and Baniyas and the military hospital in Homs carried out “assaults on wounded patients . . . [that] have gone largely unpunished by hospital managements, government ministries, and official medical bodies.”

Many people who have become afraid of going to a government hospital have chosen to seek treatment either at private hospitals or at poorly equipped makeshift field hospitals.

The report also acknowledges that medical staff have been among the thousands of people who have been arrested and tortured by the security forces since the unrest began in March.

Cilina Nasser, a researcher for Amnesty International Middle East and North Africa, said, “It is deeply alarming that the Syrian authorities seem to have given the security forces a free rein in hospitals and that in many cases hospital staff appear to have taken part in torture and ill treatment of the very people they are supposed to care for.

“Given the scale and seriousness of the injuries being sustained by people across the country, it is disturbing to find that many consider it safer to risk not having major wounds treated rather than going to proper medical facilities.”

The report documents how some patients have been removed from hospitals. On 7 September security forces looking for an alleged armed field commander opposed to the government raided the private al-Birr wa al-Khadamat Hospital in Homs. When they did not find him, they arrested 18 wounded people. A health worker present during the raid told Amnesty International that he saw at least one unconscious patient having his ventilator removed before he was taken away.

In another case in Homs military hospital in May doctors and nurses are reported to have refused to change the dressing on the injured foot of a 28 year old man for two weeks, “causing it to swell and become infected,” the report says.

“Syrian medical workers are being placed in an impossible situation: forced to choose between treating wounded people and preserving their own safety,” said Ms Nasser.

“Anyone, whether a health worker or a member of the security forces, who is suspected of delaying, obstructing, or interfering in the work of health workers providing treatment to the wounded must be held to account.”

Notes

Cite this as: BMJ 2011;343:d6947

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