* Homs province has been a major battleground
* Only 3 doctors said left in province
* WHO says 550,000 need humanitarian aid
GENEVA, Sept 11 A team from the World Health
Organization that visited Syria's Homs province last week found
a humanitarian situation that is "grave and continues to
deteriorate", with one in four residents in need of humanitarian
aid, the WHO said on Tuesday.
Homs is a central province that has been a major
battleground in the nearly 18-month-old uprising that has pitted
rebels against government troops loyal to President Bashar
Half the province's public hospitals and three-quarters of
its private hospitals are out of action and those that remain
open are working at reduced capacity and are overwhelmed, Tarik
Jasarevic, a WHO spokesman, told a news briefing in Geneva.
He said most doctors had left and that the largest hospital
in Homs, with 350 beds, had been completely destroyed.
"It has been reported that there are only three surgeons
left in the governorate (province)," he added.
Out of the province's population of 2.2 million, the WHO
estimates that 550,000 need humanitarian aid. As well as
healthcare, there is an urgent need for food, shelter, water,
sanitation and education, Jasarevic said.
Before the anti-Assad revolt began, Syria produced 90
percent of its own medicines and drugs. But production has been
hit by the fighting, a lack of raw materials, and by the impact
of sanctions and higher fuel costs.
The WHO had previously said that 90 percent of Syria's
pharmaceutical plants were located in rural Aleppo, Homs and
Damascus provinces and have suffered substantial damage from the
The city of Homs was the focus of world concern in February
and March and again in June, when opposition-held neighbourhoods
endured weeks of government bombardments and sniper fire in
which hundreds of people were killed.
"There are 150 schools hosting internally displaced persons.
The shelters that have recently opened provide poor living
conditions; there is no electricity and the water and sanitation
conditions are not functioning properly. Refuse is piling up -
and has not been collected for several weeks," Jasarevic said.
The fighting has disrupted access to water and sanitation,
as well as monitoring of vaccinations, and there is a critical
shortage of life-saving medicines and materials such as
vaccines, insulin, oxygen, nitrogen, anaesthetics and
intravenous fluid sets.
Most of the city's health workers live in the surrounding
rural area and cannot get to work. Many health facilities are
staffed by untrained volunteers.
The situation was getting even more urgent because of the
approach of winter, he said.
The WHO plans to supply basic health and water testing kits
to Homs city while the Syrian Arab Red Crescent will monitor
water quality and stockpile medical supplies and water
monitoring kits to prepare for a potential outbreak.
The WHO has also asked Syria's Health Ministry to prepare a
vaccine distribution plan that will include Homs province.