Health care of any kind is increasingly hard to come by in the besieged eastern part of Aleppo, the epicenter of the Syrian civil war. And the few remaining doctors in the city’s eastern territory face constant threat for simply doing their job.
In August, some of the last doctors still working in the city’s eastern quarters wrote a letter to President Obama pleading for help in stopping the targeted bombardment of hospitals by forces backing President Bashar Assad. In it, they explained the level of attack that medical centers are under, and warned that it was becoming impossible to treat patients.
“Last month, there were 42 attacks on medical facilities in Syria, 15 of which were hospitals in which we work… At this rate, our medical services in Aleppo could be completely destroyed in a month, leaving 300,000 people to die,” it said.
The charity Doctors Without Borders has warned that the eight hospitals still standing in the besieged area are completely overwhelmed, with access to even basic health care unlikely for most residents. This is especially true for women’s health and reproductive care in the war-torn city.
Eastern Aleppo was seized by Syrian rebels in 2012, and the 250,000 people still living there have been trapped since July, subjected to daily shelling as pro-Assad and Russian forces try to wrest back control of rebel-held areas. Food, water, fuel, and medical supplies are severely limited, as the conflict stretches on into its sixth year.
VICE News spoke to the last female doctor still working in Eastern Aleppo and asked her about life in a city described as “at the apex of horror” by the U.N. humanitarian chief Stephen O’Brien.
Farida is 37 years old and married with a young daughter. She is a practicing gynecologist. Her whole family lives in Aleppo.
How many patients are you seeing at the moment?
Every day I examine about 50 to 70 patients. Every week the number is about 300 patients, except for the surgeries.
What are your hospital facilities like?
In my hospital we have the minimum amount of health care because of the siege. If any equipment is damaged, we don’t have any other equipment to replace it.
What medical supplies and equipment do you have? What are you missing?
We are missing so many supplies and equipment in the delivery rooms and operating rooms, like a vacuum extractor and open incubator.
What is it like for the pregnant women and infants in eastern Aleppo right now?
We have no vitamins. The antibiotics that remain in the hospital are not enough for one more month. There is no baby milk, no diapers, and no nutrition.
Are you seeing any injuries or trauma to the mothers and babies? Are you having to treat conditions that you didn’t have to treat in peacetime?
There is nothing in Aleppo except the death from hunger and bombing, and in the winter I think the people and infants will die due to cold. All the women are afraid of the future and afraid for their husbands and their children. So many widows I have seen these past three months.
Note: At this point, Farida’s phone ran out of battery power, a common occurrence in Aleppo when the electricity cuts out. We will try to reconnect with her in the future.