A busy MSF-supported hospital serving a population of 70,000 people was destroyed by aerial bombing in Millis town, Idlib governorate, Syria on Saturday 6 August. Four hospital staff and nine others – including five children and two women – were killed in the two aerial strikes that hit the hospital directly and the two strikes that hit the immediate vicinity of the hospital at around 2pm local time. Six other hospital staff were wounded. The bombing substantially destroyed the building and the hospital is currently closed. This comes in the midst of an escalation in the intensity of conflict in Idlib governorate.
The bombing destroyed most of the hospital building, including the operating theatre, intensive care unit, paediatric department, and around 80 per cent of the medical devices, the ambulances and the generator. Known as a reference centre specialising in paediatrics, the hospital provided essential care for around 70,000 people living in Millis and the surrounding area, where a considerable number of displaced people had moved to escape frontlines of fighting elsewhere in the north of Syria. The hospital provided emergency care or consultations for around 250 patients per day, many of them women and children. Since early 2014, MSF had supported this hospital with supplies and technical advice, and later with financial support for the hospital staff to enable them to continue their work.
“The direct bombing of another hospital in Syria is an outrage,” says Dr Silvia Dallatomasina, medical manager of MSF operations in northwestern Syria. “We have to admire the courage and dedication of Syrian medics continuing to work in the midst of a war where hospitals are so regularly hit in bombing and shelling attacks, and we have a strong sense of obligation to support them in their essential life-saving work. Each time a hospital is destroyed, whether it is targeted or in an indiscriminate attack on civilian areas, it deprives Syrians of another lifeline of healthcare. Some hospitals provide frontline care for war-wounded, others provide frontline care for women having difficult pregnancies; all of them are needed to save lives.
We repeat our urgent call to all those with influence on the conduct of the war in Syria, including the four out of five permanent members of the UN Security Council that are participants in the war, to urgently affect change to stop hospitals being hit in the course of the fighting.Dr Silvia Dallatomasina, medical manager of MSF operations in northwestern Syria
This attack comes in an environment of renewing intensity of significant mass casualty events in Idlib governorate. In the first six months of 2016, the two largest MSF-supported reference hospitals in Idlib governorate reported seven mass-influxes of wounded, resulting in 294 wounded and 33 dead. In the month of July alone, the same facilities dealt with nine mass-influxes of wounded, resulting in 466 wounded and 37 dead.
“We repeat our urgent call to all those with influence on the conduct of the war in Syria, including the four out of five permanent members of the UN Security Council that are participants in the war, to urgently affect change to stop hospitals being hit in the course of the fighting,” says Dallatomasina. “As humanitarian medics, we will continue to do all we can to boost medical care in Syria, but we need to see an immediate end to attacks on hospitals.”
MSF runs six medical facilities in the north of Syria and provides support to around 150 other facilities in areas the organisation cannot reach. The nature of MSF’s support includes providing medical supplies; paying a basic salary to hospital staff to enable them to focus on their medical work; providing fuel to enable the hospital generators to function; contributing to the cost of reconstruction when a facility is damaged or destroyed; and providing technical medical advice. Around 70 Syrian facilities receive this comprehensive package of support from MSF, and around 80 other medical facilities are supported in a less-regular fashion, with medical supply donations and technical advice when in critical need, such as after a mass casualty influx.