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Northwest Syria: Increase in COVID-19 cases overwhelms health capacities

“Front-line health workers are particularly at risk and keeping them healthy to care for others during this crisis will be the difference between lives lost or saved.” Photo: HIHFAD/MI

COLOGNE. As cases of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) rise in Northwest Syria, Malteser International is calling for increased capacity and support for health workers to respond. In two weeks, COVID-19 infections in the region have risen by 70%, with over 12,000 people testing positive and 95 confirmed deaths as of November 23.

“We have long warned of the spread of COVID-19 across the region, but we are also concerned about the number of health workers who have either tested positive or been exposed to the virus without protection,” said Janine Lietmeyer, Head of Regional Group Middle East at Malteser International.

More than 10% of 3,500 confirmed cases in Idlib are health workers. The whole region has just over a thousand available beds in community-based treatment centers, with only 179 intensive care units (ICU). Health workers are facing serious shortages of personal protective equipment. Even before the pandemic, medical facilities, most of which are run by aid organizations, were already overstretched by the enormous humanitarian needs, but now any limits have been far exceeded."

The outbreak of COVID-19 in the region is worsening an already-dire humanitarian situation in an area with a population of three million people, half of whom are internally displaced by the country’s decade-long conflict. Many families now live in overcrowded camps or informal settlements with inadequate access to water and sanitation. This means safety measures like distancing, handwashing, and isolation are nearly impossible.

Since July when the first COVID-19 case was reported in Syria, Malteser International has supported the COVID-19 response in the country. “Through our partners, we have distributed more than 1.8 million euros worth of medical supplies to 75 healthcare facilities,” said Lietmeyer. “We are conducting awareness-raising activities and distribute hygiene kits to provide people with the information and material they need to protect themselves. Our partners have also applied protective procedures to all 12 facilities we support and have set up active triage and referral systems."

In response to the latest surge in infections, Malteser International is redoubling its efforts to provide protective personal equipment for health workers in Northwest Syria with funding from the German Federal Foreign Office. “While the pandemic may have led to a temporary reduction of violence in the region, the health system has been eroded and medical staff are exhausted and helpless in the face of a lack of treatment capacity,” said Lietmeyer. “Front-line health workers are particularly at risk and keeping them healthy to care for others during this crisis will be the difference between lives lost or saved.”

Note to editors:
Janine Lietmeyer, Head of Regional Group Middle East, is available for interviews.

Contact information:
Katharina Kiecol
+49 (0) 221 9822-7181

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Malteser International is the humanitarian relief agency of the Sovereign Order of Malta. With over 100 projects annually in some 30 countries in Africa, Asia, Europe and the Americas, Malteser International has been standing by those affected by poverty, disease, conflict and disaster, helping them lead a healthy life with dignity – without distinction of religion, race or political persuasion. Christian values and the humanitarian principles build the foundation of its work. For more information: www.malteser-international.org and www.orderofmalta.int



Katharina Kiecol
Email: katharina.kiecol(at)malteser-international.org

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