Wounded, starving crowd ill-equipped Damascus hospital

GENEVA Tue Dec 18, 2012 9:37pm IST

Smoke rises after what activists said were shelling by forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad at Erbeen near Damascus December 8, 2012. REUTERS/Ahmed el-Erbeeni/Shaam News Network/Handout

Smoke rises after what activists said were shelling by forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad at Erbeen near Damascus December 8, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Ahmed el-Erbeeni/Shaam News Network/Handout

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GENEVA (Reuters) - Wounded and starving Syrians, many of them women and children, are crowding into Damascus's main hospital where medical supplies are increasingly short, World Health Organization (WHO) officials told a U.N. news briefing in Geneva on Tuesday.

As the civil war escalates around the capital, doctors are treating up to 100 injured a day at the 400-bed Damascus Hospital and have had to use local anaesthetics even for complicated operations, WHO spokesman Tarik Jasarevic said.

Cases of severe acute malnutrition in children being referred to the hospital from rural Damascus, Deir al-Zor, Hassakeh, Deraa and Homs have risen to 7-8 a month from 2-3 in previous months, he said, and staff and patients have difficulty reaching health care facilities due to deepening insecurity.

"The most frequently observed injuries are burns, gunshots and injuries from explosions. Shortages of ointments for burns and equipment and supplies for anaesthesia and surgical interventions have been reported," said Jasarevic.

Sanctions were limiting availability of some health supplies in the country, where pharmaceutical production virtually halted months ago, according to the U.N. agency whose officials visited the Damascus Hospital last week.

Serious bread and fuel shortages were also worsening across the country, officials from the U.N.'s World Food Programme said at the same briefing.

"The humanitarian situation is grave and we have access difficulties. Distributions have slowed down but we continuing to deliver supplies to warehouses," WFP spokeswoman Elisabeth Byrs told reporters, a day before an inter-agency funding appeal due to be launched for Syria in 2013.

"Long queues in front of bakeries are now the norm in many parts of Syria," she said.

Shortages of wheat flour have been reported in most parts of the country due to the damage to mills, most of which are in the divided northern city of Aleppo, as well as lack of fuel for delivery, road closures and difficult access, she said.

WFP rations are reaching some 1.5 million people in Syria per month, but the Syrian Arab Red Crescent estimates that 2.5 million are actually in need of food assistance, Byrs said.

However, the WFP is unable to boost assistance due to a lack of aid partners on the ground and challenges in reaching some of the hardest-hit areas, she said.

For the first time in many months, it was able to distribute rations in difficult-to-reach areas near the Turkish border including rebel-controlled Ras el Ain and Tal Abyad, she said.

Attacks on WFP-rented trucks had increased in the last few weeks with 10 acts of theft and confiscation of trucks by unknown armed groups reported since October, Byrs said.

U.N. humanitarian aid chief Valerie Amos briefed the U.N. Security Council on Monday after visiting Damascus on Saturday. She told reporters that she had asked the Syrian government to urgently allow fuel to be imported for aid operations and requested that an additional 10 aid groups be allowed access.

(Editing by Louise Ireland)

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