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Lancet-AUB Commission on Syria issues preliminary report on health workers in Syria​
3/15/2017
 |  Office of Communications  |  media@aub.edu.lb  | 

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A team of public health academic researchers headed by members of AUB’s Faculty of Health Sciences (FHS) has published the lead paper in this week’s The Lancet, the UK-based global peer-reviewed medical journal known for its impactful and high-profile coverage, including of controversial issues. 

The study is entitled “Health workers and the weaponization of healthcare in Syria” and it comes as a preliminary inquiry for the Lancet-AUB Commission on Syria which began meeting at AUB in December 2016 and is due to produce its final report in 2018.

The authors have analyzed data from multiple sources to investigate the impact of the Syrian crisis on health workers and the healthcare systems that they manage; their conclusion is that targeted attacks on the health sector present an unprecedented challenge to the practice of medical neutrality in violent conflict calling for new thinking in global health.

“To the best of our knowledge, this level and extent of targeting is not known to have occurred in any previous war,” said one of the lead authors Dr. Samer Jabbour, Associate Professor of Public Health Practice at FHS, who is Co-Chair of the Lancet-AUB Commission.

The study also highlights the resilience and resourcefulness of health workers who have mobilized on an unprecedented scale in response to the war, despite the extraordinary pressures and circumstances they face.

Global health challenge
The paper marks six years since the start of the conflict (March 15), since when more than 800 medical personnel have been killed in Syria. Attacks on healthcare facilities have become more frequent, with nearly 200 in 2016 alone. 

The authors say the conflict has revealed serious shortcomings of global governance and that global health organizations and actors must now take on a new role.

This includes systematic documentation by the World Health Organization​ ​of attacks on health workers and their perpetrators, greater protection for health workers, and greater accountability for breaches of international law.  

The evidence gathered shows that breaches have occurred on all sides of the conflict and that a majority of attacks against health workers and health facilities, notably in 2016, were launched by the Syrian government and allies against facilities in non-government-controlled areas.

In government-controlled areas the paper cites indiscriminate mortar attacks from rebel areas as a hazard for medical personnel, as well as reports of medical personnel being forced to breach ethical principles under pressure. It says there is limited information about the situation in areas under the so-called Islamic State, while reporting on kidnapping, execution, and an exodus of health workers, with others being forced to deliver care at gunpoint.

The report uses evidence from multiple sources, including Physicians for Human Rights, the independent US-based advocacy movement that uses science and medicine to investigate severe human rights violations. The authors invite new data and evidence to incorporate in their analysis for the final report.

The preliminary report was conducted by authors from AUB, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, the Syrian American Medical Society, Cambridge University and Imperial College. 

The decision to host the Lancet-AUB Commission on Syria was hailed by the AUB administration as a major step for the university on the global stage, showcasing the application of objective academic research into the biggest public health issues of the day making a global impact. It is the first time one of The Lancet’s high-profile global health investigations has been hosted in the region.
Story Highlights
  • ​​A team of public health academic researchers headed by members of AUB’s FHS has published the lead paper in this week’s The Lancet, the UK-based global peer-reviewed medical journal known for its impactful and high-profile coverage, including of controversial issues. 
  • The study is entitled “Health workers and the weaponization of healthcare in Syria” and it comes as a preliminary inquiry for the Lancet-AUB Commission on Syria which began meeting at AUB in December 2016 and is due to produce its final report in 2018.
 
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