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Medical Care Reportedly Under Attack In Syria


As Kelly just reported, hundreds of Syrians have been reportedly killed in the continuing attacks in the city of Homs over the past week. Reporters and international aid workers are prevented from reaching the town, and it's difficult to know how many people have been killed or wounded. And now the Syrian government is reportedly depriving people of medical attention as a tactic to weaken the opposition. Dr. Greg Elder is the deputy director of operations for Doctors Without Borders. He's running that agency's efforts in Syria from their Paris offices. Dr. Elder, thanks for being with us.

DR. GREG ELDER: Thanks for having me.

SIMON: You've heard from lots of people- medics and patients on the ground - what do they say?

ELDER: We are getting stories from some of the patients who manage to make their way across the border, and what they're telling us is some pretty disturbing stories. Most of them are escaping with their injuries because they're afraid to seek medical care in their own country, afraid because hospitals are militarized and if they go the hospital, they run a high risk of being arrested and detained.

SIMON: You're gathering testimony from Syrians. I want to listen to a clip we have of a 23-year-old man. His voice has been disguised by the way, and he says that he was injured in a raid by Syrian government forces.

UNKNOWN MAN #1: (Through Translator) I was not taken to a hospital because all the hospitals were surrounded with security personnel. In the hospitals now, the security personnel are more numerous than the medical personnel and anyone is subject to arrest and even murder inside the hospitals.

SIMON: Now the way that man describes it, Dr. Elder, the hospitals themselves have become potential killing grounds.

ELDER: Yeah. And unfortunately that's a pretty consistent story from some of the patients that are reporting to us in neighboring countries, and also from some of our medical colleagues who have organized themselves as surgeons, doctors, even medical students into sort a clandestine clinics, and they're providing health care in those sites, often in rather poor circumstances, simply because the mainstream hospital system is completely militarized. Medical resources and supplies are controlled. Even the blood transfusion services is under the control of the Ministry of Defense at the moment.

SIMON: Dr. Elder, how do you treat a seriously wounded person in your own home?

ELDER: Yeah. The stories, the stories are pretty hard. Basic first aid, even primitive surgery is being conducted in kitchens, in apartments, and then there's the few that can be stabilized and then sent for more definitive care in neighboring countries. Now, when we've visited these clinics, we've been able to see that they are short of many, many supplies, many basic supplies. Most specifically what they ask us to help them with is anesthesia equipment, medical and surgical supplies and blood transfusion equipment.

SIMON: And I assume people don't keep blood transfusion equipment for example at home.

ELDER: No. And that's one of the reasons - they're actually afraid to carry medical equipment in their cars for example. If they're caught by the security forces with bandages, with gauze, with simple surgical materials, they will be assumed to be helping clandestine clinics and can be arrested and there are stories of torture of medical staff who have been caught with these medical supplies.

So these are medical staff who are taking huge personal risks just to sort of carry out their sort of professional functions and their ethical responsibilities, and they're moving from clinic to clinic to clinic because they're basically being hunted by the security services.

SIMON: Dr. Greg Elder is deputy director of operations for Doctors Without Borders speaking with us from their headquarters in Paris. Doctor, thanks so much.

ELDER: My pleasure. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.