Providing healthcare in crisis: Strained systems and insufficient funding for Syria

Earlier today the Harvard School of Public Health convened a forum to discuss the realities of the Syrian conflict and implications for the humanitarian response in coping with the millions displaced by the war.

The two and a half year long war has led to a staggering exodus of people from their homes, with an estimated 2 million refugees fleeing to the neighbouring countries of Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq.  Many more millions are displaced within Syria’s own borders.

This quote from IRIN news aptly summarizes the situation:

Across the region, countries neighbouring Syria are struggling to cope with the staggering number of refugees, who have strained health, education and other infrastructure. As more refugees stream over the border every day, the UN is being forced to prioritize the most vulnerable due to lack of funds.

The healthcare infrastructure and capacity required to meet the needs of refugees and national citizens alike, and the severe lack of funding to do so, are two key themes that also arose in today’s forum. Moderated by Aaron Schachter, Assignment Editor at PRI’s The World, the panel consisted of Jennifer Leaning, Jeanne Guillemin, Michael VanRooyen, Paul Spiegel, and Recep Akdag (click on names for bios).

With the majority of recent attention focused on the chemical weapon attacks VanRooyen made the important observation that the  “issue of chemical weapons is a distraction” and that they account for only 2% of casualties in Syria


Rather, attention needs to be paid to the healthcare needs of refugees both in terms of war/trauma injuries and emergency obstetric care, but also to the long-term healthcare provision for those with chronic diseases and mental health issues:


However, almost 40% of Syria’s hospitals have been rendered non-functional by the war and provision of secondary and tertiary healthcare for refugees is a major challenge.  Similarly,  there are “many survivors with penetrating wounds, paralysis, major head injuries; region not poised to deal w/rehab burden”.


Indeed, while international bodies and humanitarian agencies are geared towards emergency response during conflict, long-lived wars require a different – and some would argue currently non-existent – approach and infrastructure for rehabilitation. This may fall to mobilizing funding to strengthen the healthcare systems of countries on Syria’s borders, and managing the flow of refugees to keep the conflict from becoming a “regional destabilizer”.

Despite these valid assertions, the practicalities of securing this additional funding are daunting. Throughout the conflict, there has been insufficient support for Syrian refugees by the international community. So far the UN has only received 44% of its appeal for $1.2 billion to support the care for Syrian refugees in Lebanon through to the end of 2013.

With the war and need for humanitarian aid ongoing, where will the long-term funding for refugee health come from? And what is the potential role for Islamic and regional agencies to contribute to this effort?


  1. A health tragedy in the Levant: The costs and opportunities of solidarity|Al Jazeera English | Global Health in the Middle East - […] Providing healthcare in crisis: Strained systems and insufficient funding for Syria […]

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