There was the medical student who volunteered in eastern Aleppo even after his classmates were tortured and killed as a warning. There was the pharmacist who smuggled drugs past government checkpoints to cancer patients who needed them. There was the paediatrics medic who relied on expired medicines taken from an abandoned factory.
Each took enormous risks to provide medical care to areas in Syria aligned against President Bashar Assad. Some were imprisoned and tortured, evidence of how the nearly 9-year-old conflict in Syria has normalised the criminalisation of medical care.
Physicians for Human Rights, which has documented the collapse of Syria’s health care system, said in a recently released study that Assad has successfully made medical assistance given to his enemies a terrorist act.
The study is based on interviews with 21 formerly detained Syrian health care workers who have fled the country. None wished to be identified by name, fearing retribution against their families or themselves if they ever returned.The New York Times independently interviewed three of them. It also interviewed an emergency medic of an underground hospital, the subject of “The Cave,” an acclaimed 2019 documentary, who was so overcome by bombings she abandoned her aspirations to be a paediatrician.
The medical student: Navigating a deadly dystopian odyssey
The Syrian medical students were well aware of the risks when they crossed over to rebel-held districts of Aleppo in 2013. The previous year, two other students had been arrested trying to smuggle bandages and painkillers through a checkpoint. A week later the security services told other students to collect the corpses, which had holes in their foreheads, tongues and eyes from a power drill.
“That was a message for all the medical students,” said a former student who asked that his name not be used because of fear of retaliation. “‘If you do something against us, this is the result.’”
Courtesy: The NYT