Syrian doctor exposes life on the medical front line

The make-shift medical centre functioning in the shattered streets of the Old City. Photo:

While the world was gripped by the crisis over Syria’s chemical weapons and the West stepped towards and then back from brink of military intervention, a letter reached us from a doctor working in the city of Homs.

(Warning: Some viewers might find this footage distressing)

It was a disturbing dispatch from his own front line – a makeshift medical centre somehow still functioning in the shattered rebel streets of the Old City; streets that have been under siege by government forces for 500 days.

Patients are carried to the hospital through tunnels in buildings to avoid snipers.

Here’s a little of what Dr Mosab wrote:

Four hundred families, most of them are women, children, and injured...living under the worst circumstances imaginable.

We have to drink from polluted wells and wash in the sewage water. We eat leaves and rotten rice.

Sick people here do not die due to medical treatment, but because of hunger and severe malnutrition, unhealed wounds, severe lack of food and absence of basic human necessities.

Dr Mosab made us this video too.

His is a world of trenches and tunnels through which they rush patients to avoid snipers, of out-of-date medicine, of operating theatres without fresh, clean water, of teenage boys who act as assistants.

Trenches are used to avoid snipers when carrying patients between buildings.

To watch is to admire the persistence of humanity amid so much inhumanity, and then to wonder how long can they continue.

For there are now countless Syrians who are beyond help; beyond the reach of aid agencies.

This week, the Red Cross reported that the Syrian government is preventing it from delivering medical supplies to rebel areas.

One disfiguring feature of an ugly war has been the practice of both regime and rebels to target medical centres and health workers.

According to the World Health Organisation, a third of Syrian hospitals have been destroyed and a further twenty per cent severely damaged, while an estimated 15,000 doctors have been forced to flee abroad according to the Council on Foreign Relations.

Dr Mosab explained that most of the medicine used at the make-shift hospital is out-of-date.

Dr Mosab ends his letter with a simple appeal to the international community: "We are waiting for your help."

But no one can tell when that help will arrive, or indeed whether it will arrive at all.