por Loren Bonner
, DOTmed News Online Editor | November 07, 2013
Three-year-old Hamza Ramadan was walking through a divided regime crossing in war-torn Syria with his mother and sister when a bomb went off. His mother and sister were killed instantly, but Hamza had a small chance of surviving. He was transported to a local hospital but died one hour later.
"This is only one out of many who are admitted to this hospital that is close to the front lines. They die everyday because of snipers and bombs," Dr. Zaher Sahloul, president of the Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS) and a pulmonary specialist in Chicago, told DOTmed News.
Sahloul has treated far too many cases like this.
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With several other SAMS doctors, Sahloul has been volunteering his medical services since the civil war broke out in Syria nearly three years ago. His group has been bringing much-needed medical care to million of civilians who are still living in Syria.
An average of five SAMS doctors go back and forth between the U.S. and Syria every month.
Sahloul returned from the region just this week. He was there for 10 days assisting with medical care and said the current situation is much worse than it was four months ago, the last time he was inside Syria.
"What is needed today is different than what was needed a few months ago," said Sahloul.
A few months ago, it was all about chemical weapons. Now, it's essential to get children vaccinated and to treat patients who are unable to get medication or treatment for chronic diseases.
Sahloul said this is a result of the collapse of the entire public health system. Most hospitals in Syria have been destroyed — several were targeted attacks — and doctors have been forced to flee. But Syrians are in need of medical attention that goes beyond critical care. Sahloul said patients with chronic conditions — like diabetes, asthma and heart disease — are unable to get their medications. Cancer patients and dialysis patients are also suffering. Medications are not available and patients cannot pay for them, according to Sahloul.
"Many of the deaths not reported are due to chronic diseases," said Sahloul.
Chronic diseases have taken the lives of roughly 200,000 people in Syria. This is more than the estimated 120,000 people killed by bombs, snipers and other weapons, and the 1,400 people killed by nerve gas.
Gina Panzieri, a consultant who lives in Massachusetts, has been volunteering with SAMS for over a year, doing outreach to collect medical supplies from hospitals and individuals. Lately she's been working on getting more medications to the region through SAMS.