Human Rights

World Health Organisation: Situation in Idlib Risks Widespread Coronavirus Infections


The World Health Organisation has warned that those displaced in Idlib camps with little option of isolation and limited medical facilities are at a risk of infection. 

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has warned that Idlib Province, a major Opposition-held area in north-western Syria, may not have the capacity to detect and respond to a Covid-19 (Coronavirus) outbreak given the region’s fragile health infrastructure, despite not yet registering any cases.

Devastated infrastructure and huge displacement in Idlib, with approximately 3 million people displaced in the province, make containment an almost impossible task for aid agencies and local organisations, which are trying to prevent a coronavirus outbreak. The WHO has provided cross-border assistance to Idlib via Turkey, but is unable to provide support from government-held territory inside Syria.

Those residing in displacement camps are feared to be at a high risk for the virus, with the International Rescue Committee warning that the situation in Idlib is especially ripe for a spread of the virus. The health of the people in the camps is already compromised due to a lack of clean water and sufficient food, exposure to cold weather and insufficient medical infrastructure.

Mustafa al-Abdo, the deputy head of Idlib’s Opposition-run health department, has appealed for the formation of an isolated medical centre in preparation for an outbreak. He also urged aid agencies to provide health workers with test kits, medical masks, gloves, and any other necessary equipment for the prevention of a coronavirus spread in the camps.

The Opposition-run health department has highlighted that the main risk to those in the camps is the busy open border between opposition-held areas and government-held territory. They fear the unrestricted entry of travellers, especially from Iran where the virus has reached into the 10,000s, who enter Damascus at the Syrian-Iraqi border. While there are no official cases reported in Government-held areas, they have urged local authorities to control and regulate internal borders.

Displacement camps are overcrowded, with nearly a million people displaced since December by the Russian-backed Syrian government offensive into north-western Syria. Clinics and medical centres have been set up at the Syrian-Turkish border. However, with a continuous stream of new arrivals, stemming the virus from reaching these areas seems an increasingly difficult task.