United Nations officials based in Syria have called on the warring sides to implement humanitarian pauses in the conflict to allow aid to reach millions of people and for children to be vaccinated. Speaking in Geneva on 26 January 2016 ahead of peace talks due to begin on 29 January, the officials also called for a stop to attacks on schools, hospitals and medical personnel.
“The suffering is immense,” said Yacoub El Hillo, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Syria. He pointed out that 67% of Syrians now live in poverty and half of the country’s population was internally displaced (6.5 million) or were refugees (4.5 million). Vaccination rates for children aged under five years were 98% before the crisis but have dropped to less than 50%.
Elisabeth Hoff, the World Health Organization’s representative in Syria, appealed to the “parties to the conflict to give us some pauses” to carry out three to four vaccination campaigns to reach 2.9 million children across Syria.
She also warned that there were shortages of medicines and supplies, 50% of health workers had left the country, 60% of public hospitals had been destroyed, closed or were partially functioning, and 50% of primary health centres had closed.
The UN says more than 85 humanitarian workers have been killed since the conflict began in 2011, and Hoff voiced concerns that surgical and other medical supplies (including needles, syringes and rehydration therapies for children) “are constantly being removed” from aid convoys, even when they have been approved by the central government.