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In Aleppo, Syria, COVID-19 adds to ongoing suffering, especially for the poor

Javier Manzano / AFP ©

Maria Lozano - ACN - published on 04/27/20 - updated on 04/27/20

Many hospitals and health centers were destroyed by the terrorists leaving the city's health care delivery system in a fragile state.

Syrians in general, but especially residents of Aleppo, tend to be more cavalier about their personal safety and security compared to most people in the West; this has become particularly evident as Syria begins to grapple with the coronavirus pandemic.

“Many people say they have suffered for nine years and survived both warfare and hunger. Some are more careful and use surgical masks and safety gloves to protect themselves, but most people are not concerned about the spread of coronavirus. They have already suffered so much,” Father Antoine Tahhan, an Armenian Catholic priest based in Aleppo, told Aid to the Church in Need (ACN).

On March 19, to prevent infections, the Syrian government issued an order to close all shops for fear of the virus and imposed a curfew from 6 pm until 6 am. Just a few days later, on March 22, the Catholic bishops in Aleppo additionally decided to close all their churches as a protective measure.

There is little that can be done in a country where years of fighting has left the health-care system in tatters. “Aleppo has lost many hospitals and health centers that were destroyed by the terrorists, for example the Al-Kindi hospital and the ophthalmic hospital. Much of the equipment and medical supplies have been looted, and many doctors have emigrated because terrorists abducted some of them and threatened to kill others.”

“As a result, the healthcare system is in a fragile state and this is at the root of the concern that the virus could spread among the population, especially among the Syrian Arab soldiers,” said Father Tahhan.

“I don’t think there are enough ventilators to be able to cope with the virus. We also need a great many surgical masks and other medical equipment. We also need to raise awareness among the people about the health risks, since up till now there are still many people walking through the parks, holding hands or greeting one another without taking any notice of the recommended public health measures.”

Aleppo was retaken by the Syrian regime in December 2016. A few of the better-off families have since been able to repair their homes, but the majority of the Christian families are very poor; they are surviving thanks to the support of the local Church and with the help of organizations like ACN, which are providing emergency aid to help with rent, food and basic medical care for many of the poorest families in Aleppo and other parts of Syria.

“Without this help the Christians would not be able to return to their homes and preserve the Christian presence in the Middle East,” said the priest.

The exodus triggered by the civil war has had a devastating effect, Father Tahhan said: “The number of Christian families, of all denominations, in Aleppo before the war stood at around 30,000. Now that figure has fallen to around 10,000.”

“In addition, we are suffering a massive ageing of the population in the sense that the number of older people has increased to two-thirds of the population, not merely in Aleppo but throughout Syria. And the lack of a youthful workforce is further exacerbated on account of military service.”

For over a year now Syria has been suffering a severe economic crisis. “When Aleppo was liberated, there was considerable optimism and for three years many people put their hopes in hard work, but now the economic situation is generally going from bad to worse.”

“Many people are unemployed, and the salaries paid are not enough to support a family of four. Economic sanctions are causing great suffering to the population and the poor economic situation in Lebanon is also affecting the Syrian economy.”

“The dollar has gone through the roof, and with it the cost of living. At the same time, they the flow of aid that was coming into Syria via Lebanon” has been suspended because of the ongoing crisis in Syria’s neighbor, said Father Tahhan.

Since the liberation of Aleppo, 75 Armenian Catholic families have returned, but they are displaced people who came back from other parts of Syria and not from Europe.

“In order to encourage the families to return to Syria, economic sanctions must be lifted—as the Pope called for in his Easter message—so young people can find work. We also need security, medical assistance and the abolition of the military reserves, so that the young can get work, build their future start families,” Father Tahhan concluded.

In Syria, the coronavirus is but one of several major challenges.

This article is republished here with kind permission from Aid to the Church in Need. To learn more visit www.churchinneed.org

Tags:
CoronavirusSyria
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