In a sign of further escalation, Syrian authorities have turned hospitals and medical staff into instruments of repression in their efforts to crush the unprecedented mass protests and demonstrations.
People wounded in protests or other incidents related to the uprising have been verbally abused and physically assaulted in state-run hospitals, including by medical staff, and in some cases denied medical care, in gross breach of medical ethics, and many of those taken to hospital have been detained.
A 28-year old patient who was shot in the foot in May 2011 reported to us what a doctor at Homs military hospital was saying:
I’m not going to clean your wound… I’m waiting for your foot to rot so that we can cut it off.
Afraid of the consequences of going to a government hospital, many people have chosen to seek treatment either at private hospitals or at poorly equipped makeshift field hospitals.
But blood supplies in Syria can only be obtained from the Central Blood Bank, which is controlled by the Defense Ministry, leaving private hospitals with a terrible dilemma. One medic who had worked a private hospital in Homs told us:
We faced a dilemma every time we received a patient with a firearm injury and an urgent need of blood: if we send a request to the Central Blood Bank, the security would know about him and we would be putting him at risk or arrest and torture, and possibly death in custody.
Medical workers have themselves been targeted by security forces, some for treating injured people, others on suspicion of attending demonstrations or filming protesters.
Ambulance under fire
On September 7th, 2011 at 10:13pm, the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC) was called to pick up a wounded man in al-Warshe area of Homs. The driver and four SARC paramedics and volunteers wearing their SARC uniforms headed there in an ambulance flashing its red and blue lights.
They stopped at a checkpoint in al-Hameediye neighborhood. Unusually, the security officer in charge there said that if the person’s injuries were serious, the ambulance could take a shorter route to the hospital avoiding the security checkpoint on the way back. According to a SARC officer, there was no sound of gun fire at the time and the situation in the area was calm.
However, when the ambulance had picked up the wounded person at about 10:35pm, it came under fire, apparently from the security forces as it took the alternative route from Haret al-Hameediye to Abu al-Hol Street. Three SARC volunteers were injured, including Mohamed Hakam Durraq al-Siba’i who died eight days later.
Video footage and photos taken after the attack shows at least 12 bullet holes in the ambulance and blood stains on the floor and on a bench inside the vehicle.
Join us in taking action by asking the Syrian government to stop targeting wounded and health workers in Syria