Intended for healthcare professionals


“Thoroughly and deliberately targeted”: bombarded doctors in Syria hold on to hope for the future

BMJ 2019; 365 doi: (Published 17 June 2019) Cite this as: BMJ 2019;365:l4012
  1. Elisabeth Mahase
  1. The BMJ

Hospitals under attack are struggling to provide healthcare to a badly damaged Syria, reports Elisabeth Mahase

Feras Fares, a gynaecologist trained at Aleppo University, was going about his usual routine in a hospital in Idlib: he finished up surgery, spoke to the receptionist, checked the rota, and headed to get some rest in the call room. When he next opened his eyes all that he could see was white. An air strike had hit the hospital.

“I didn’t hear anything, I didn’t see anything, I didn’t hear any commotion—but everything was white, everything was dust. I tried to stand up, but I realised that my arm was injured,” Fares tells The BMJ, speaking from Gaziantep, near the Syrian border in Turkey.

He adds, “I saw that a part of our hospital had been totally destroyed: it was the ICU department. I had to check that everybody inside the hospital was leaving . . . even the patient that I had delivered [a baby to] one hour ago, she was trying to escape.”

Fares is now programme director at the Syrian Expatriate Medical Association (SEMA), which is based in Turkey. He left Syria in 2015, just a few months after surviving the attack, and he now regularly trains doctors still in Syria—normally remotely, but from time to time crossing the border back into his home country.

He says, “It was a really hard time, the hardest moment that I have seen. I’m always grateful, I tell myself that I have been born again: as we say in Arabic, Alhamdulillah [praise and thanks be to God].”

The new normal

It was not an isolated incident. Last year 257 attacks were recorded on hospitals, medical transportation, and healthcare workers in Syria, says the latest report from the Safeguarding Health in Conflict …

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