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Syria: tales of life, death, and dignity

BMJ 2012; 344 doi: (Published 07 March 2012) Cite this as: BMJ 2012;344:e1691

This article has a correction. Please see:

  1. Samer Jabbour, senior lecturer, Faculty of Health Sciences, American University of Beirut
  1. sjabbour{at}

It is a year since the revolution in Syria erupted on 15 March 2011. Is the subject of health still relevant for discussion, as deaths approach 9000, tens of thousands of people have been arrested, and thousands remain detained? Do the notions we use as health professionals of care, determinants, equity, and rights retain a meaning in the context of shelling of residential areas, sniper shooting of demonstrators, execution of activists, and restrictions on access to basic living needs? Can a health sector stand with the ongoing destruction of the fabric of society? Not claiming to know the answers to these questions, I offer a few snapshots of real life stories that, perhaps, can begin to provide some answers. Because the current crisis didn’t start a year ago, the stories start much earlier too.

February 1976: The 10 year old boy stands up straight like other kids in the yard of his primary school at the end of a long day. He does not have enough clothes on and feels cold. His left ear hurts. He gets frozen blood when he tries to clean it. He cannot move because everyone is saluting the flag and the “leader father.” (All children are, by default, part of “talaa’eh el Baath,” inculcated with Baath principles and love for the “leader father.” The late Hafez Assad brought this idea from North Korea after a visit to Kim Il-Sung.) The boy would have recurrent ear infections for years to come.

March 1981: Two tenth graders develop a journal which they call “Maabad” (temple, meaning of knowledge). It includes only mild social critique and no political messages. Members of the Revolutionary Youth Union (Baath affiliates in secondary school) made it …

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