World

WHO presses Syria to approve evacuation of dozens of critically ill people in Ghouta

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.

Children among patients on priority list, which includes some with cancer, heart disease and kidney failure

Members of the Syrian Civil Defence group and civilians carry victims after airstrikes hit Ghouta, a suburb of Damascus, on Thursday. (Syrian Civil Defence via Associated Press)

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 program, 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.

Hundreds of people have died in 12 days of bombing in eastern Ghouta, a swath of towns and farms outside Damascus that is the last major rebel-controlled area near the capital.

After the UN Security Council agreed on a 30-day cessation of hostilities, Russia proposed a five-hour daily pause that collapsed quickly on Tuesday. UN 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, UN 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 WHO.

Dr. Peter Salama, WHO deputy director and head of its health emergencies program, says the UN agency hoped to deliver vital medical and surgical supplies soon to the rebel-controlled area of 400,000 people near Damascus. (Salvatore Di Nolfi/Associated Press)

Aid convoy on standby

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 per cent of the children under five years old 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 UN children's agency UNICEF said earlier 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 UN country team with trucks loaded and ready to enter eastern Ghouta as soon as the approvals are given for entry of those convoys."

Syrian soldiers dropping leaflets

On Friday, the Syrian army released footage showing soldiers dropping leaflets near Damascus.

The army said it drops leaflets daily informing civilians of safe places, humanitarian corridors and medical points. One leaflet said if civilians do not co-operate with rebels, they would be assured safety, food, accommodation and free first aid.

On the fourth day of the daily pause, no civilians left Ghouta from the humanitarian corridor proposed by Russia in al-Wafideen camp, northwest Douma.

Meanwhile, Syrian government forces have gained ground from rebels at the edge of the eastern Ghouta region, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Friday, in a ground assault that has continued despite the Russian plan for daily ceasefires.

now