A man is helped following an alleged air strike by Syrian regime forces on the city of Douma on April 13, 2014
A man is helped following an alleged air strike by Syrian regime forces on the city of Douma on April 13, 2014 © Abed Doumani - AFP/File
A man is helped following an alleged air strike by Syrian regime forces on the city of Douma on April 13, 2014
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AFP
Last updated: May 28, 2014

Medical aid reaches Syrian town for first time in 18 months

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Desperately needed medicines and medical supplies have reached the besieged Syrian town of Douma for the first time in a year and a half, the World Health Organization said Wednesday.

The United Nations' health agency said two of its trucks loaded with medical supplies had been part of an aid convoy that reached the rebel-held town in the Eastern Ghouta area of Damascus province on Saturday.

"It was the first time medical help had reached Douma since the siege of the area began in November 2012," WHO said in a statement.

The convoy, organised by a range of UN agencies and the Syrian Red Crescent, also brought food and other aid items into the town, which was hit by two air strikes during the aid distribution, activists said.

The Geneva-based WHO said its staff members had gone in with the convoy and spoken to doctors in the town, where local residents have long suffered food and medical shortages.

Nearly half of Douma's 50,000 inhabitants are in need of medical assistance, "including urgent surgical care and life-saving treatments," the agency said, pointing out that surgeons in the town had been forced to perform operations "under extremely difficult circumstances".

The broader East Ghouta area in rural Damascus governorate has only seven functioning hospitals for a population of one million, it said.

"Across Rural Damascus governorate as a whole, there is only one operational public hospital for every 567 200 people," WHO said.

A UN Security Council resolution was passed in February demanding aid access to people in need across Syria.

Rights groups and the UN have both said aid was still not reaching millions of people in need, despite the resolution.

Syrian expats meanwhile streamed to their embassies around the world Wednesday to vote in advance of a controversial presidential election on June 3.

President Bashar al-Assad, facing two little-known challengers, is widely expected to clinch a third seven-year term, despite Syria's civil war, which has killed more than 160,000 people.

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