GENEVA (Reuters) - Nearly 100 patients in eastern Ghouta, including children, are the priority for medical evacuations among more than 1,000 sick and wounded people in the besieged Syrian enclave, a senior World Health Organization official said on Friday.
Dr. Peter Salama, WHO deputy director and head of its health emergencies programme, also said the United Nations agency hoped to deliver vital medical and surgical supplies soon to the rebel-controlled area of 400,000 people near Damascus.
After the U.N. Security Council agreed on a 30-day cessation of hostilities, Russia proposed a five-hour daily pause which collapsed quickly on Tuesday. U.N. agencies are seeking a safe corridor for aid to enter and evacuees to leave.
“What we’re calling for as WHO is at the very least an immediate approval from the Syrian government and all the warring parties for evacuation of the critically unwell, starting with the top 84 which have been listed by the NGOs, U.N. agencies and Red Cross as the most urgent,” Salama told Reuters in an interview at WHO headquarters in Geneva.
“They include children, they include women, they include a range of conditions from people that have had direct trauma (injuries) related to the conflict in eastern Ghouta,” he said.
Patients on the priority list for immediate evacuation include some with cancer, heart disease or kidney failure, as well as others needing emergency surgery for detached retinas or joint replacement, according to the WHO.
WHO has written to Syrian authorities nearly a dozen times seeking evacuations of a growing list of patients in recent months but has never received an official reply, Salama said.
He cited reports that up to 12 percent of the children under age 5 in Ghouta suffer from acute malnutrition as a result of deprivation and insufficient food.
Syria’s government may allow an aid convoy with supplies for 180,000 people to go to the town of Douma in eastern Ghouta on Sunday, the Middle East director of the U.N. children’s agency UNICEF said earlier on Friday.
“We are immediately ready to deliver on a very large scale medical supplies, surgical supplies, supplies for treatment of acute malnutrition, for reproductive health care, blood safety, (painkillers), anti-epileptics, antibiotics, the full range of essential medicines and supplies,” Salama said.
“So we are on standby with the U.N. country team with trucks loaded and ready to enter eastern Ghouta as soon as the approvals are given for entry of those convoys.”
Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Angus MacSwan; Editing by Alison Williams