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Northern Syria: Sharp rise in COVID-19 claims a 20 day-old baby and a 17-year-old pregnant girl

Amman – 1 October 2021 – A 20-day-old baby and a 17-year-old pregnant girl are among COVID-19’s latest victims in Northern Syria as the number of people catching the virus continues to rise sharply, Save the Children said today.

The number of confirmed monthly cases in North West Syria jumped by 144% from August to September. As of this week, the total number of cases in the area stands at more than 70,000, with over 1,000 deaths.

In North East Syria, including in the camps of Roj, Al Hol, Washukani and Areesha, there have been 27,296 coronavirus cases and 908 deaths since the start of the pandemic. There are as many as 60 British children in camps in North East Syria. Confirmed coronavirus cases have risen significantly over the past few months, including by more than 26% from August to September[i].

Bassam*, Community Care Centre Supervisor at Save the Children’s partner organisation Violet, said:

“Nowadays, when we pass by isolation centres and hospitals in Idlib, we see overcrowded queues outside. Currently, we are at the peak of the spread of the outbreak in Idlib. And there is hardly any space left in hospitals or isolation centres – hospitals are nearly 99% full. The rate of the spread of the virus in camps is very dangerous as the camps are so overcrowded.”

Orlaith Minogue, Senior Conflict and Humanitarian Adviser at Save the Children, said:

One death from coronavirus is one too many, but to hear that a baby and a 17-year-old have also been claimed is devastating. This virus has been with us for nearly two years now, and we know it doesn’t just go away. Without an urgent injection of funding, cases will continue to rise, and thousands of children living in some of the world’s most dire conditions will not even get the opportunity to access some of the basic relief our services provide to them. The world must not look away.

“Every day that British children and their families stay in the camps is another day they are failed by their government. Every day British children are denied the opportunity to return to their home, denied the specialised services they so desperately need and denied the right to live in safety and recover from their experiences is a day too many.

“So far, 75% of vaccines have gone to the world's richest countries. And yet we know no-one is safe until everyone is. The UK and the international community must step up with a fully financed plan to vaccinate the world and finally end the pandemic for all of us.

The organisation called for the international community – particularly countries that have already benefitted from successful vaccination roll-outs – to urgently support and fund relevant authorities and NGOs in the fight against the pandemic and help impacted children. 

Earlier this month Save the Children warned of a sharp increase in COVID-19 cases across North West Syria, leaving only a dozen or so intensive care unit (ICU) beds remaining.

As well as the 20-day-old baby and 17-year-old girl from Idlib, a teacher working in a mobile centre supported by Save the Children with partner organisation ATAA in North West Syria died of COVID-19 last week.

Ammar*, who worked alongside the teacher said, his colleague used to treat his students as if they were his own children and was widely liked by students’ parents.

“He told me he was extremely tired and suspected he had coronavirus so he got tested immediately. He did not receive adequate care in a public hospital so was transferred to a private hospital, but only at the last minute because he couldn’t afford it. His situation deteriorated rapidly after arriving at the hospital and he later passed away.”

As well as a public health emergency, lockdowns are preventing vital aid and services from reaching people living in some of the worst conditions in the world, Save the Children said.

Save the Children continues to provide life-saving services like food vouchers and child protection in camps in NE Syria but many of its other services including temporary learning spaces, child friendly spaces and mother-baby areas, have been suspended, impacting about 8,615 children.

Schools have been suspended in North West Syria since 25 September, forcing 12,278 children enrolled in Save the Children-supported education facilities back into remote learning[ii] and battling limited internet access and electricity.

The area is also experiencing a severe shortage in PCR testing capacity, ICU wards and other health services, including personal protective equipment (PPE). 

Save the Children is also calling for increased funding to support the establishment of treatment centres and clinics including more ICU beds and oxygen ventilators in order to treat the most critical cases. There is also a desperate need for increased funding to support students undergoing remote learning and ensure they are supplied with the necessary equipment and learning materials, the organisation said.


*Names changed for confidentiality.

Notes to Editors

Save the Children is also providing services including case management and individual protection assistance for urgent cases, one-on-one infant and young child feeding support for breastfeeding mothers as well as rehabilitation/construction work where necessary and delivering coronavirus awareness sessions in North East Syria. Additionally, interim care centres are still operating and our teams are preparing mitigation measures in case lockdowns are extended and learning has to revert to remote learning modalities.

[i] Data from the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria

[ii] Due to the coronavirus pandemic, schools were closed from March 2020 to September 2020. Students returned for another year, and the new term started on September 18 2021. Just days later schools were closed again.

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