The Syrian War and People with Disabilities
Synopsis: A look at the war in Syria with a focus on military and civilian injuries resulting in disability or death.1
Author: Thomas C. Weiss Contact: disabled-world.com
Published: 2013-09-03 Updated: 2017-12-23
The potential for United States intervention in the Syrian civil war has increased dramatically in recent days, bringing to mind the question of the people in the nation of Syria who experience disabilities. Even conservative estimates suggest Syrian military operations have resulted in more than 70,000 people already killed, to include 10,000 children, 8,000 women, and more than 4,000 seniors. The numbers of people in Syria who have been injured or wounded has exceeded more than 300,000 people; many of whom will almost certainly experience permanent and life-long disabilities.
Officially the Syrian Arab Republic, is a country in Western Asia, bordering Lebanon and the Mediterranean Sea to the West, Turkey to the north, Iraq to the east, Jordan to the south and Israel to the southwest. A country of fertile plains, high mountains and deserts, it is home to diverse ethnic and religious groups, including Kurds, Armenians, Assyrians, Turks, Christians, Druze, Alawite Shias and Arab Sunnis. Damascus is the capital and the second largest city of Syria after Aleppo. Syria is a member of International organizations; the United Nations and the Non-Aligned Movement; it is currently suspended from the Arab League and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, and self suspended from the Union for the Mediterranean.
Many Syrians who were injured during military operations sustained permanent disabilities because of the severity of their injuries and/or the lack of timely and adequate medical attention and rehabilitation. Syrian hospitals have been forced to discharge people too soon in order to deal with incoming emergencies. A number of injuries resulted in amputations or disfigurement. Many people with injuries are expected to experience long-term disabilities such as amputations, brain injuries, spinal injuries, seeing or hearing disabilities, or mental health disabilities because of military operations.
Speculations are that there may be thousands of people who are now amputees, although the exact numbers of people who will experience permanent disabilities remains unknown at this time. It is understood that many people who sustained traumatic injuries during this conflict still face the risk of permanent disability due to complications and inadequate follow-up medical care and rehabilitation. This is the face of war.
Efforts by the rest of the world to deal with the challenges facing people with disabilities in Syria have been completely inadequate. The fundamental rights of people with disabilities are consistently violated and very few organizations are doing professional work to provide rehabilitation services for people with disabilities. The needs are far greater than their capacities.
Chart showing the casualties of the war in Syria
Mobility and Prosthetic Device Needs
The majority of people with disabilities in Syria need mobility devices such as wheelchairs, artificial limbs and so forth. Unfortunately, mobility devices are not available in Syria, making it hard for the majority of those who need them, especially in rural areas, to gain access to them. There is a need to support locally made mobility devices and to increase their outlets in rural areas, something that will make the devices more affordable and easier to maintain.
There is an urgent need for prosthetic devices because most of the people with disabilities in Syria spend the majority of their time in bed. The reason they do is because the do not have the equipment they need to move and be independent. There is a great need for pain relief medications, anti-coagulants, anti-bedsore mattresses, and colostomy bags.
Medical and Rehabilitation Care Needs
The needs of those who have already survived the current war in relation to medical care and rehabilitation services is great; these services need to become more effective and sustainable. The medical care and rehabilitation of people injured during this war requires a comprehensive approach. For example; people with amputations need a comprehensive, multidisciplinary approach to care as they progress from initial triage to pre-operative assessment and resuscitation to amputation, prosthetic fitting, rehabilitation and then to reintegration in their communities. Psychological services need to be integrated as soon as possible in this planning.
There is a need to establish a community-based rehabilitation program (CBR) in Syria to reach people who have been and continue to be injured during this war who experience disabilities in every area and community. A CBR is a bottom-up, multi-sector strategy that works towards community-based inclusive development by including people with disabilities and community stakeholders in development programs. A CBR program is designed to support the inclusion of people with disabilities in health, livelihood, education, social and skills training, as well as additional services at the community level.
Chart showing common disabilities people experience in Syria due to the war
The Needs of Children with Disabilities in Syria
The injuries that are usual causes of permanent disabilities in children during wars include injuries to the spinal cord and brain, bone deformities in the legs and arms, as well as loss of hearing, sight and mental capacities. Diseases that produce forms of disabilities which are spread through war such as tuberculosis, meningitis, poliomyelitis and others, have been joined by diseases that involve lack of care. Compound fractures, bone and tendon infections, as well as deformities caused by delays in medical care or lack of appropriate treatment add to the woes of war and cause disabilities.
Children in Syria need appropriate medical treatment. They need prosthetic and orthotic devices and other assistive devices and mobility aids. They need physical therapy treatment. Children with disabilities in Syria need help because supposed adults choose to fight wars instead of dealing with one another amicably.
Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Needs
A large number of war victims with disabilities have been traumatized and need support to overcome trauma. Many continue to be traumatized by the war and others have reported to have lost self-esteem and thought that they could not do anything on their own and had to be dependents. There is a great need for counseling services, social and economic supports for injured victims in Syria.
The horrifying experiences many people have endured have resulted in various types and degrees of PTSD. The need for extensive and on-going psychological support to help victims to deal with what has happened to them in the long-term and to improve their quality of life is vast. The need is quite understandable, not only have governments been behaving violently, their entire lives have been turned upside-down.
The Need for an Information Management System
Some different organizations are providing rehabilitation support to people with disabilities in Syria, but there is no coordination or collaboration to unify their efforts and provide reliable rehabilitation services. Field hospitals and community groups have started some programs to provide rehabilitation services for people with disabilities, yet it is evident that there is a great need for networking between different groups because the activities of the groups in the rehabilitation process are loosely linked. Disability Rights, Syria works to coordinate and strengthen linkages between the different plays and ensure service delivery, not the easiest task in a nation in the midst of a war.
There is a need to develop a networking system and an effective referral system to rehabilitation services in places that are available inside Syria itself, or in neighboring nations. There is a need for consistent compilation of information and reports in regards to rehabilitation activities to ensure effective follow-up and support to service providers and people with disabilities. Accomplishing this requires identification and registration of people who have been injured during this war by community workers.
Capacity Building Needs
A need exists for capacity building among health care providers and community workers in Syria. Training is needed regarding treatment of war surgery, post-op rehabilitation, and home care. The aim is to strengthen the practices and procedures concerning war victims care and rehabilitation for team members via continuing education and training.
People are needed to provide assistance and training, as well as national rehabilitation in Syria through field hospitals and community work for people with disabilities. The technical assistance and training would be carried out not only in Syria, but in neighboring nations, and would be focused on the development of capacity to assess disabilities requirements and provide emergency care, to include physical therapy. Additional needed training is in regards to the specialized appropriate medical support to be provided in the right time to people who have received amputations. Primary intervention for complex severe wounds and fractures could potentially have saved limbs if the appropriate medical support had been provided at the right time.
Disability and the Horror of War
The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which was ratified by the Syrian Government in the year 2008, determines that all necessary measures to ensure protection and safety for persons with disabilities in situations of risks, including situations of armed conflict have to be taken. The rights of persons with disability need to be protected in accordance with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. There are no studies, research, or any kind of information on injured persons or persons with disabilities as a result of the military operations in Syria. Urgent efforts need to address the needs of persons with disabilities and their families.
Horror is something the people of Syria are subjected to every day, they see all kinds of disabilities and the suffering of people who have lost part of their bodies. They see the fear and anger of families and many other horrors. Some suggest that people in Syria are becoming immune to the sight of these horrors, while others bemoan the exposure of children to them. Despite the opinions that are expressed, it appears that the graphic presentations of human misery seem to benefit mainstream media news shows.
Another horror, on that is remaining nearly invisible, does exist in Syria. It involve the ongoing and often times systematic abuse of people with disabilities. Contrary to what some would have us believe - human rights are not a sword to smite good intentions, they are a shield to deflect oppression. Human rights should be a minimum below which no society falls. Instead, they too often remain an ideal that societies only aspire. The United States of America is about to add to the misery in Syria.
Providing emergency rehabilitation to injured civilians in Syria
Mortar blasts, cluster bombs, sniper attacks - the fighting in Syria is taking lives and limbs, leaving civilians with amputations and permanent disabilities. That is why our teams are working in Syria and refugee camps in neighboring countries to provide emergency rehabilitation care, distribute walking aids and support hospitals treating wounded people.
Syria Crisis: Helping people with disabilities in Zaatari Camp
Sidra is paralyzed from the waist down and had to borrow a wheelchair from a neighbor to get to the hospital. Her mother, Fatima, told me that the decision to leave Syria was largely because the fighting made it increasingly difficult to find medical help for her daughter. Her husband, a builder, remained behind because he felt he could still earn money for the family.
"Syrian Disability Representation" Regional Project Manager - Middle East
Handicap International is an independent and impartial international aid organization working in situations of poverty and exclusion, conflict and disaster. Working alongside persons with disabilities and other vulnerable groups, our action and testimony are focused on responding to their essential needs, improving their living conditions and promoting respect for their dignity and their fundamental rights. Handicap International is a not-for-profit organization with no religious or political affiliation.
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