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Syria's Other Crisis

Author: Jerusha Murugen
September 30, 2013


In the midst of a bloody civil war, the biggest killer in Syria may not be the one you expect: chronic disease.

For many thousands of Syrians who struggle to access medical treatment in a war with no end in sight, everyday medical conditions have now become a matter of life or death. Dr. Zaher Sahloul, president of the Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS), estimates that as many as 200,000 Syrians have died from chronic conditions, such as cancer, diabetes, hypertension, and respiratory and heart conditions, as a result of lack of access to drugs and treatment, double the number of Syrians killed by combat operations.

This stands in contrast to the situation prior to the conflict, when many Syrians received consistent care for these illnesses, with such treatment accounting for a significant portion of Syria's health services. The United Nations now estimates that over half a million Syrians will require chronic disease treatment for the remainder of 2013. Of this figure, more than 400,000 Syrians alone are expected to require diabetic care.

And while daily atrocities and war crimes have gained international attention, most recently August's horrific chemical weapons attack, Médecins Sans Frontières, an international non-governmental organization providing medical care in Syria, stresses that victims who survive combat operations more frequently become "silent casualties," succumbing instead to previously manageable chronic illnesses as a result of calculated attacks on Syria's primary health care system and pharmaceutical industry.

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