Serving in Syria, Regardless of War
It’s difficult to escape news of the countless heartbreaking casualties of Syria’s ongoing civil war. Yet, buried under the barrage of stories about this overwhelming humanitarian crisis is one that often escapes coverage—and one that continues to wreak a unique level of devastation all its own: the near-complete breakdown of the country’s health care system.
Since violence first broke out in 2011, both random and targeted attacks have either wholly destroyed, or caused severe damage to the majority of hospitals and clinics across the ravaged country, leaving them inoperable. Fearing for their own safety, health care providers have fled. And a severe shortage of medical supplies means that millions upon millions of children and adults cannot access even the most basic care, such as immunizations and common medications. As a result, communicable diseases such as measles and polio have skyrocketed; and those living with chronic, yet manageable conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and kidney disease are suffering serious, and often fatal, complications.
In response, as reported in Crux, three Italy-based charities have partnered to bring their Open Hospitals project to Syria. (Crux is a news site covering the Vatican and the Catholic Church).
Supervised by the Vatican’s Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, and funded by the AVSI Foundation, the Gemelli Foundation, and Pontificial Council Cor Unum (the Vatican’s charity branch), Open Hospitals provides medical care to those living in poverty. In addition to two other non-profit, Catholic-run hospitals, the project also supports a hospital in Damascus operated by the Salesian Sisters, Daughters of Mary Help of Christians. With 55 inpatient beds, and a staff of 26 physicians and 54 nurses, the hospital has already cared for more than 7,000 patients since Open Hospitals launched in February, 2017.
Citing the estimated 1.5 million people without access to a hospital in Damascus, “this is an absolutely crucial service, made exponentially more so by the support of Open Hospitals,” says Father Mark Hyde, director of Salesian Missions. “Together, the Salesians and other Catholic groups are performing true acts of mercy for those in desperate need.”
This includes the St. Louis Hospital in Aleppo, managed by the Sisters of St. Joseph of the Apparition, and a French hospital in Damascus run by the Company of Daughters of St. Vincent de Paul. Together, all three facilities have treated a combined 15,700 patients completely free of charge—no matter their religious affiliation. An additional $1.7 million, recently donated by the Hungarian government as reported in Crux, will support an additional expansion of services.
According to Eduard Habsburg, Hungary’s ambassador to the Holy See, while the majority of hospital staff are Christian, most patients are Muslim—“so it is a project that will help bring peace in the region between different religions,” he observes in Crux.
In a press release published by the AVSI Foundation, Cardinal Mario Zenari, the apostolic nuncio to Syria, says, “[Open Hospitals] is just a drop—albeit a very precious drop—in our sea of necessities.”
“Indeed, these are small steps in the overall context of Syria’s challenges,” agrees Fr. Mark, “but they are steps in the right direction. And, as we always have throughout this horrible conflict, our Salesian missionaries remain dedicated to meeting the corporal and spiritual needs of Syria’s people as they struggle with the conditions in which they live.”
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