Syria: “Where growing medical needs converge with shrinking funds”

Amman, BrusselsInternational financial support to the health system in northern Syria is in decline. The medical needs in the region far exceed the available medical services, with Syrian people bearing the greatest burden due to limited support and the closure of hospitals and health facilities.

Yet, this dire situation is being treated with further funding cuts. Médecins Sans Frontières(MSF) calls upon the donor community attending the Brussels conference to prioritise the financial support of the Syrian health sector.

MSF supports the Mashhad Rohin primary healthcare centre in northern Idlib governorate. The centre provides primary healthcare to people who are displaced and to residents of the region. It is one of the most important medical facilities because of its location near many crowded camps housing thousands of people who fled the war towards the Syria-Türkiye border. ©MSF

After years of conflict, millions of people in northern Syria are facing even greater challenges to accessing healthcare, with the decline of international financial support for the Syrian health system, says MSF. Nearly a third of health facilities in Idlib and northern Aleppo governorates have either closed or partially suspended activities due to underfunding, leaving 1.5 million people without access to lifesaving and emergency healthcare, with 112 health facilities at risk of closing by the end of June according to local authorities. MSF urges international donors and governments to immediately boost their financial support for the health system in northern Syria.

Ahead of international donors and donor states meeting in Brussels on 27 May, the situation in Syria is dire. In 2024, US$4.07 billion is the total funding required to respond to humanitarian needs in Syria. However, just six per cent, or $326 million has been funded through the Humanitarian Response Plan (HRP). International donors and donor states must allocate sufficient funds for healthcare, as the situation is becoming more difficult for people, with fewer functioning health facilities, overcrowding of the ones that are functioning, shortages of medications, and a lack of staff.

Syrian people are bearing the greatest burden of the financial shortfall because hospitals are not being funded. Because of that, when people seek healthcare, they find hospitals either closed, or there’s no doctors or no medications. If they find a doctor, they’re asked to go buy medicine from private pharmacies, which is unaffordable.
Carlos Arias
MSF Medical Coordinator for northwest Syria
MSF supports the Termanin primary healthcare centre in northern Idlib governorate. The MSF team is working with hospital staff to reduce the large gap in health services in the area. ©MSF
Medical services are provided at Al-Maland primary healthcare centre in north-west Syria's Idlib governorate, with the support of MSF. The centre facilitates provides healthcare to thousands of people after they were geographically cut off due to the ongoing war. ©MSF

The funding shortfall and the impact on the healthcare system could lead to the deterioration of long-term health conditions, increased outbreaks of diseases, and compromised quality of life for people. Groups such as children and pregnant women could be particularly affected, for example, if there is a lack of vaccination campaigns. This comes as the region is already reeling following the destruction inflicted by the February 2023 earthquake and conflict which has endured for more than 13 years.

People are facing growing water scarcity, leading them to be more dependent on water trucking and water networks. However, these are hampered by unstable power supplies and high fuel costs. As a result, the lack of water forces people to adopt negative coping mechanisms such as reducing water consumption or using unsafe drinking water.

MSF covers a limited proportion of needs, in delivering critical medical and humanitarian assistance to communities in Idlib and Aleppo governorates. Our teams co-managed or supported 6 hospitals. in 2023, we have provided over 1 million outpatient consultations and more than 150,000 consultations for non-communicable diseases. Teams assisted more than 20,000 births and provided more than 25,000 mental health individual consultations.

Medical activities at the MSF-supported Bernas hospital, located west of Idlib on the Syria-Türkiye border. The hospital provides maternal and child health services in an area densely populated with camps for displaced people. ©MSF
An MSF-run mobile clinic in the Salqin region of northwest Syria. The clinic provides primary health services to displaced people in camps near the Syria-Türkiye border. ©MSF
We have expressed our concerns on many occasions that the deteriorating health situation in Syria can’t be addressed with further funding cuts. Our teams and partners are witnessing the direct and severe impact due to of lack of funding on patients.
Thierry Goffeau
MSF Head of Mission, northwest Syria

“We had to leave our homes because of the war and come to northwest Syria. Since we’ve been here, it’s been very hard to get medical care because hospitals that were working have now stopped,” says Salim Mohammed, who is internally displaced in northwest Syria. “I am 68 years old and a diabetic; hospital closures will be a death sentence to people like me.”

In the last few months, 77 health facilities in northwest Syria have been forced to suspend activities due to a lack of funding. Including 17 hospitals, nine of which are women and children’s hospitals.

MSF received requests to directly support at least six hospitals and five basic healthcare centres, among which three of them are critical in the medical landscape of northwest Syria. While MSF relies on our own funds, many other NGOs are sustained by public funding and their work is jeopardized by the cuts.
Karim El-Rawy
MSF Field Coordinatory, Idlib
MSF runs the Hayr Jamous primary healthcare centre near the city of Salqin in Idlib governorate. Nurses and doctors provide support to patients, who face a dire health situation in northwest Syria. ©MSF

In order to improve access to healthcare facilities for people in northwest Syria, it is essential to secure adequate funding. This will enable the rehabilitation of health structures damaged by earthquakes and ensure the provision of resources for the facilities to become operational and offer, at the very least, the same level of services that were available before the earthquake. The disparity between rising needs and shrinking funds is both contradictory and unacceptable.

In northwest Syria, MSF focuses on delivering critical medical and humanitarian assistance to the communities in Idlib and Aleppo governorates. Our teams co-managed or supported six hospitals, offering a comprehensive range of specialist services, including maternal and paediatric care, vaccinations, surgery, mental health support and treatment for chronic diseases and skin conditions, as well as health promotion. In addition, we run a burns facility, where our multidisciplinary approach comprises surgery, mental health services, physiotherapy and palliative care. MSF also runs or supports 12 general healthcare centres, with a particular emphasis on sexual and reproductive health and community health promotion, and deploys 11 mobile clinics across the region, delivering essential medical services to displaced people in remote and inaccessible areas. Our other outreach activities include managing two clinics for non-communicable diseases (NCDs), facilitating patient referrals through ambulances and delivering crucial water, sanitation and hygiene services in more than 100 camps.

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