Now in its 18th month, Syria’s ongoing civil war between the regime of ruling President Bashar Assad and rebel forces fighting to end nearly five decades of Assad’s Ba'ath Party rule has claimed thousands of lives and created a humanitarian crisis. While the world watches the bloodshed and governments criticize each other for getting involved or turning a blind eye to daily atrocities, a group called the Syrian American Medical Society is taking risks of its own to provide medical care to wounded Syrian citizens in the war zone.
Syrian-American Doctors like pulmonary specialist Zaher Sahloul from Chicago have traveled to the region and made multiple clandestine trips across the Syrian border from Turkey to reach field hospitals and treat the many wounded. The journeys are perilous and have found these volunteer doctors sneaking through holes in barbed wire fences and dodging border guards. Once there, these doctors treat hundreds of casualties under the constant threat of attacks by Syrian military artillery and airstrikes.
Syria’s health care system, once one of the best in the Middle East, is now in shambles and the thousands of refugees that have poured into neighboring Turkey has overwhelmed that country’s medical infrastructure. The cruel irony is that Syria’s leader, Assad, went to medical school with Sahloul and his forces now target hospitals and doctors in the ongoing conflict.
What inspires medical professionals to travel halfway around the world to risk their own lives to treat the victims of another country’s civil war? How should the international community address the unfortunate victims of Syria’s conflict?
Dr. Souheil Habbal, M.D., Regional Chief of Allergy, Kaiser Permanente; Volunteers with the Syrian American Medical Society
Hassan Twiet, Head of the L.A. Chapter of the Syrian American Council