World

Doctors Without Borders Hospital In Syria Bombed, Impeding Country’s Access To Medical Care

CREDIT: Medicins Sans Frontieres

A statement released Tuesday by Doctors Without Borders confirms that a hospital in the Dara’a Governorate in Syria was hit by an airstrike on February 5. The airstrike on the hospital killed three people and wounded an additional six, according to the statement.

The Talas hospital, which is close to the Jordanian border, is still partially damaged. It is the 13th health care facility to be attacked in Syria this year alone, according to Doctors Without Borders, which has documented such attacks in the past.

“I was on my way to the hospital to help admit people who had been injured by the airstrikes,” said one Doctors Without Border staff member in the statement. “But as soon as I reached the hospital, I myself got injured. It all happened very quickly. I saw what looked like an explosion and then a flash of light, and then I lost consciousness for five minutes. My colleagues saw me lying on the ground, bleeding, and rushed me inside. I was injured in both my arm and leg by shrapnel.”

While it is still unclear who is responsible for the latest attack on the hospital in Syria, attacking hospitals has long been used as a wartime tactic. The United States, as well as international organizations it is a member of, have attacked hospitals in various countries, including Iraq, Afghanistan, Serbia, and even Vietnam. In October 2015, a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan was hit by U.S. airstrikes. Doctors Without Borders said that it had given the U.S. military its precise GPS location, in order to avoid such an attack, and it also said that U.S. forces continued bombing the hospital for more than 30 minutes after they were alerted they were bombing a hospital.

Much of the media coverage after the attack in Afghanistan implied that the hospital treated all parties of the conflict, including the Taliban, but the claims were disputed by Doctors Without Borders.

Hospitals are to be protected from such attacks under international law, and medical personnel and civilians are not to be purposefully injured or killed. “Targeting a hospital is a war crime and warring parties are obligated to take every measure possible to avoid attacking health facilities,” Susannah Sirkin of Physicians for Human Rights, an organization which documents attacks on medical workers around the world, told ThinkProgress last year after the attack in Afghanistan.

Nonetheless, access to medical care in Syria has been targeted since the conflict in Syria first began in 2011. In September 2015, the World Health Organization reported that there is a severe shortage of ambulances, specialized medical staff, and medical supplies in the country. “Lack of basic utility services including electricity, fuel, safe drinking water and basic sanitation services have increased vulnerability to disease outbreaks such as diarrheal diseases, cholera, typhoid, hepatitis A, measles, and leishmaniasis,” noted the organization. Human Rights Watch has similarly identified Syria as one of countries most at risk of violence against health care facilities and staff, as well as interruption of access to health care services.