Direct Relief has shipped the first of three batches of nerve agent antidotes and protective gear to Syria to help shield Syrian doctors and healthcare workers from chemical weapons attacks.
The shipments, valued at $1.2 million, include more than 10,000 doses of antidote for sarin and other nerve agents of the type used in the April 4 chemical attack on the Syrian town of Khan Sheikhoun. The antidote has been in short supply in Syria and will be distributed to health workers by three Syrian medical aid groups, consistent with recently published WHO guidelines regarding preparation and response to chemical weapons attacks.
The shipments also include protective gear, respiratory supplies and surgical instruments to treat adults and children, and thousands of bottles of prenatal and children’s vitamins.
Relentless bombings of health clinics and hospitals in Syria have killed more than 800 health workers, according to the medical journal Lancet. Several were among the more than 80 killed in the April 4 sarin gas attack on Khan Sheikhoun.
Hours after the April attack, Direct Relief received an email from Dr. Ahmad Rami Moqdom, logistics manager for the Syrian American Medical Society. Dr. Moqdom told the story of Dr. Ali Darwish, a SAMS surgeon who died in another chemical weapons attack in Hama province on March 25. Dr. Darwish continued operating on a patient during the attack, collapsed in the operating room and died soon after.
“Our main concentration is to protect the medical staff who are in direct contact with the injured ones,” he wrote, emphasizing the need to protect doctors from chemical attacks in the future.
In addition to the Syrian American Medical Society, Direct Relief is providing specialized medicine and medical supplies to the Independent Doctors Association and Syria Relief & Development, which will depart Direct Relief’s warehouse in the coming weeks.
“While our number one priority to prevent aerial attacks on hospitals and health workers in Syria fails to be met by the international community, activating a preparedness plan for future chemical attacks will save countless patients and colleague lives,” said Dr. Salah Safad, Independent Doctors Association’s Health Programs Manager. “The Syrian regime has attacked us many times before and we are constantly adapting our operations to the weaponization of healthcare that has come to characterize our situation in Syria. As the medics treating patients under bombings and chemical attacks, being prepared with critically needed medication is of great benefit to our life-saving work.”
The deliveries to Independent Doctors Association and SAMS also include emergency health kits, each containing over 150 essential items such as antibiotics, surgical tools, and trauma and wound care supplies. The kits are designed to treat 1,000 patients for one month and have been honed and refined by Direct Relief over years of responding to disasters.
In addition to the nerve agent antidotes and protective gear, the delivery to Syria Relief & Development includes 4,000 bottles of prenatal vitamins and 8,000 bottles of children’s chewable multivitamins.
“Direct Relief is committed to doing all it can to prevent further human tragedy and loss of life among those trapped in a brutal situation, and for the medical staff who put themselves at risk simply trying to provide humanitarian care,” said Thomas Tighe, CEO of Direct Relief. “Medicine can’t end a war, but it might save a life.”
Since the Syrian conflict began, Direct Relief has made more than 160 emergency deliveries of medicine and medical supplies valued over $50 million to Syria and neighboring countries.