'Tool of war'

Syrian government continues to weaponize health care with bombing of maternity hospital

A young girl stands in front of a destroyed building on February 16, 2019, in Hajin, Syria. (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)

On May 15, Syrian bombs destroyed a maternity and children’s hospital in the city Idlib, the nineteenth medical facility attacked since late April, journalist Janine di Giovanni writes in a New York Times editorial, stressing that the government’s “campaign against hospitals is not just inhumane — it represents one of the most repellent aspects of modern warfare.”

President Bashar al-Assad uses hospitals as a “tool of war,” writes di Giovanni, explaining that the targeting of hospitals goes back to the beginning of the Syrian civil war, when protests against the government began. President al-Assad believed that doctors who treated wounded protesters were anti-government themselves.

Dr. Rola Hallam, a British-trained Syrian anesthetist, is fighting to combat the unthinkable attacks on hospitals — by building new hospitals. She and her colleagues at an organization called CanDo have built seven hospitals since 2016, according to di Giovanni.

Dr. Hallam, speaking at the Women in the World Summit in New York in 2017, discussed her crucial work in Syria, describing the hardest day of her life — an incident that speaks volumes about the al-Assad regime. She recalled a time when she was helping treat patients at a Syrian hospital and saw a boy burned so badly, his skin looked like bark on a tree. “I had never seen anything like it before. I was so stunned, I could only say, ‘How are you?’ He whispered, ‘I’m OK.’”

There had been an attack on a schoolyard, she explained. “A big ball of fire had been dropped from the sky. One by one, we were seeing these ghoulish-looking children walking in. Clothes are hanging off them. They’re covered in white powder dust, with the most heart-wrenching smell of singed flesh. I felt like I’d been transported to a horror movie.” She knew the severely burned boy would would die a painful death from suffocation. And so, she said, “I treated him so he would slip away.”

Below, watch a video of her at the Women in the World Summit, describing her lifesaving work:

Read the full editorial at The New York Times.

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