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Healthcare ‘Weaponized,’ Unaccompanied Children Biggest Victims of Syria War | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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A general view shows a damaged classroom at a school after it was hit in an air strike in the village of Hass, in the south of Syria’s Idlib province on October 26, 2016. AFP PHOTO

Beirut- Children have suffered the most in Syria’s six-year war, UNICEF has said, as a new study revealed that 2016 was the most lethal for health workers in the war-torn country.

“For unaccompanied and separated children the situation is even harsher than for other children, and for children in general it’s already a very, very difficult situation,” Geert Cappelaere, UNICEF regional director for the Middle East and North Africa, said Wednesday.

UNICEF, the United Nation’s agency focusing on children, issued a report on Monday on the war in Syria, which began after protests six years ago against Bashar al-Assad.

In its report, UNICEF said it had documented the deaths of 652 children last year, 20 percent more than in 2015. But Cappelaere said that represented only a small proportion of the real number of deaths.

“In 2016 every six hours a child dying or severely injured in Syria … dramatic figures. But these are only the figures we have been able to verify. We do assume that indeed the number of child casualties is really much higher,” he told Reuters.

Documenting the real impact of the war is “an impossible task,” he added after returning from a three-day visit to Damascus, Homs and Aleppo.

Cappelaere said that in the Jibreen shelter for displaced people in Aleppo on Tuesday, each of the three newly arrived families he spoke to was carrying a child separated from its family – a measure of the extent of the problem.

“Many of these children are also undocumented. They don’t have their paper…. The problem is not only for tracing (their families), but also for registering in the shelter, the problem of registering them in the schools,” he said.

However, Cappelaere believed there are still signs of hope amid the devastation.

Meanwhile, a team of public health academic researchers headed by members of American University of Beirut’s (AUB) Faculty of Health Sciences (FHS) has published the lead paper in this week’s The Lancet, the UK-based global peer-reviewed medical journal known for its impactful and high-profile coverage, including of controversial issues.

The study is entitled “Health workers and the weaponization of healthcare in Syria” and it comes as a preliminary inquiry for the Lancet-AUB Commission on Syria which began meeting at AUB in December 2016 and is due to produce its final report in 2018.

The authors have analyzed data from multiple sources to investigate the impact of the Syrian crisis on health workers and the healthcare systems that they manage.

Their conclusion is that targeted attacks on the health sector represent an unprecedented challenge to the practice of medical neutrality in violent conflict, calling for new thinking in global health.

“To the best of our knowledge, this level and extent of targeting is not known to have occurred in any previous war,” said one of the lead authors Dr. Samer Jabbour, Associate Professor of Public Health Practice at FHS, who is Co-Chair of the Lancet-AUB Commission.

The paper marks six years since the start of the conflict (March 15), which has left more than 800 medical personnel dead. Attacks on healthcare facilities have become more frequent, with nearly 200 in 2016 alone, it said.