Intended for healthcare professionals

Feature Conflict and Health

Experts sound alarm as Syrian crisis fuels spread of tuberculosis

BMJ 2014; 349 doi: (Published 03 December 2014) Cite this as: BMJ 2014;349:g7397
  1. Sophie Cousins, freelance journalist, Beirut, Lebanon
  1. sophcousins{at}

Tuberculosis among Syrian refugees must be treated as a health emergency say health workers as the disease numbers rise in neighbouring countries. Sophie Cousins reports

Mass movement of refugees as a result of the crisis in Syria has contributed to a rise in the number of tuberculosis cases across the region. Since the beginning of the Syrian crisis in 2011, over three million refugees have fled to neighbouring countries, including Lebanon, Turkey, and Jordan; 6.5 million have been internally displaced; and more than 100  000 have lost their lives, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

As the conflict escalated doctors and healthcare workers fled Syria, health infrastructure was destroyed, and drug supply chains were interrupted. This, in addition to poor living conditions and a sharp drop in vaccination coverage, led to outbreaks of infectious diseases, including polio, measles, hepatitis, and tuberculosis, both in Syria and in the countries that border it.

Before the crisis, the World Health Organization estimated that the prevalence of tuberculosis in Syria was 23/100  000 population, a large reduction from 85/100 000 in 1990.1 In 2013, according to the WHO’s tuberculosis profile on Syria, 2816 cases of tuberculosis were identified.2

Tuberculosis care in Syria was integrated into the healthcare system with treatment facilities located in Aleppo, Homs, and other areas. However, the war has seriously affected the country’s ability to diagnose, treat, and prevent the disease.

Assistant professor of global health at New York’s Mount Sinai Hospital, Annie Sparrow, has launched a study on the long term effect of the Syrian war on civilian health. She says that the detention of thousands of Syrians in prisons across the …

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