02/09/2018, 09.53
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Nuncio in Damascus: With collapse in healthcare, Catholic hospitals a grace ‘open to all’

The escalation of violence continues in different areas of Syria. Battles rage in Goutha east, Idlib and Hama; mortar shots on the capital. Card Zenari: Greatest number of victims from lack of healthcare not bombs. Half of clinics and "out of service", 75% of the staff have fled. The testimony of the "open Hospitals" that treat poor Christians and Muslims ".

Damascus (AsiaNews) – Conflict in Syria has intensified once again in recent weeks "with bloody clashes in East Goutha " [about 400 victims according to some sources] and "mortar launches on some central districts of Damascus", causing several victims "including children ". Then there are "bitter clashes in Idlib", which cause "dead and wounded every day" in the central province of Hama "and" in the north, in the Afrin area "where the Turkish offensive is taking place”. This is what Card. Mario Zenari, apostolic nuncio to Damascus, describes painting a picture that risks further aggravating an already dire health situation in the country. "It is now clear - underlines the cardinal - that more people die because of lack of hospital care and medicines, than from armed clashes or bombs".  

The latest official data available, provided by the World Health Organization (WHO), dates back to September 2017 and confirms the worsening of the situation. Because of the Syrian conflict, the apostolic nuncio continues, half of the public hospitals (111 in total) and of the patient assistance centers (1806 scattered throughout the territory) are "completely out of service, or operate in an incomplete or partial way".

Zenari notes: "If the number of direct victims of the conflict [which broke out in March 2011] is about half a million, there are many more who have died due to the lack of health care". The situation is close to collapse, also because [again according to WHO data] "two-thirds (about 75%) of healthcare personnel including doctors, hospital technicians and nurses left Syria. And this is an alarming picture ".

The apostolic nuncio in Damascus reminds us that war does not reap victims only through arms and armies in opposition to each other. It also causes deaths due to increasing poverty and increasingly harsh living conditions. "Before those who had a job could also benefit from healthcare assistance. Now the lack of work has also led to the a lack access to healthcare assistance and people are struggling to seek treatment".

69% of Syrians, continues the cardinal, live in conditions of "extreme poverty", so "if someone has a disease, from the flu to pneumonia, to cancer or other serious pathologies, they are forced to carry on without being able to seek treatment".


Faced with the emergency, the Syrian Church - with the collaboration of the Holy See and the support of Pope Francis himself - decided to re-launch the services offered by the three Catholic hospitals in the country (two in Damascus and one in Aleppo) in the context of the project "Open Hospitals".

Two years ago, visiting the three centers run by women's religious institutes, the Cardinal recalled, "I was impressed that they were not working at full capacity. I saw empty beds, the surgeries that did not work, and this because of the high maintenance costs, from electricity to diesel, to machinery and equipment. "

The nunciature and the Pope therefore wanted to commit themselves to "re-launch these three Catholic hospitals", guaranteeing "free access to those who cannot pay. A patient shows up in one of the facilities, the disease is assessed and their financial means verified. If poor, the doors are opened and all possible care is provided and this happens whether your name is Peter, or Mohammed. There are no differences [of religious faith] and everyone is welcomed ".

Precisely this openness to all the needy, without distinction, becomes a "great gesture" of "charity" in a context of conflict, violence and division, adds Card. Zenari. "A beautiful testimony of evangelization" he adds, even if often "it may seem only three drops in the desert". "With this project - concludes the apostolic nuncio - we can not resolve the healthcare emergency, but we want to continue to be a sign of the charity of Pope Francis and the Church in Syria." (DS)

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