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Frontline staff fighting the coronavirus in areas controlled by the government of Syria are increasingly dying due to lack of personal protective equipment, Human Rights Watch said.The aid organization reported several deaths of doctors in August following symptoms linked to Covid-19, many of which were not shown in government figures because no tests had been carried out.

“It is disconcerting that, as obituaries for doctors and nurses responding to the Covid-19 pandemic mount, the official figures tell a story at odds with the reality on the ground,” said Sara Kayyali, researcher at HRW.

Syria has recorded 2,830 cases, including 116 deaths, in government-controlled areas, but the health ministry has admitted that it lacks the “capacity … to carry out large-scale testing in the provinces. “.

A Syrian doctor, on his own initiative, teaches children how to wear a mask correctly during the pandemic crisis of the novel coronavirus, in the Janid displacement camp near the town of Dana, east of the Turkish-Syrian border in the northwestern province of Idlib. Photograph: Ibrahim Yasouf / AFP / Getty Images

HRW said the evidence suggested the official figures significantly underestimate the scale of the outbreak.

He said he confirmed the deaths of 33 doctors from symptoms related to Covid-19 in August, while official figures recorded 64 confirmed deaths among the general population.

“Doctors and nurses operating in government-controlled areas have said there are severe shortages of supplies, especially in rural areas,” the New York-based watchdog said.

Personal protective equipment provided by the World Health Organization does not appear to reach medical personnel in sufficient quantity.

Health workers told HRW that hospitals equipped to treat Covid-19 patients are now all full, and smaller centers are running low on ventilators and oxygen to do so.

Several sources told AFP last month that deaths among medical personnel in government-controlled areas had skyrocketed in the previous weeks.

A doctor, who asked to remain anonymous, said most of the dead were not tested for the virus but had symptoms before they died.

Nine years of civil war have plagued the Syrian health system, with hospitals damaged by bombing, vital equipment missing and medics injured or forced to flee the fighting.

The government now controls most of the country, but the northwest remains in rebel hands while the northeast is controlled by Kurdish forces backed by the United States.


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