December 19, 2014 / 10:09 AM / in 3 years

One million people wounded, diseases spreading in Syria: WHO

An injured boy lies at a field hospital after what activists said were air strikes by forces of Syria's President Bashar al-Assad in the Duma neighbourhood of Damascus October 20, 2014. REUTERS/Badra Mamet

BEIRUT (Reuters) - One million people have been wounded during Syria’s civil war and diseases are spreading as regular supplies of medicine fail to reach patients, the World Health Organization’s Syria representative said.

A plunge in vaccination rates from 90 percent before the war to 52 percent this year and contaminated water have added to the woes, allowing typhoid and hepatitis to advance, Elizabeth Hoff said in an interview late on Thursday.

More than 200,000 people have been killed in Syria’s conflict, which began in March 2011 with popular protests against President Bashar al-Assad and spiraled into civil war after a crackdown by his security forces.

“In Syria, they have a million people injured as a direct result of the war. You can see it in the country when you travel around. You see a lot of amputees,” said Hoff. “This is the biggest problem.”

She said a collapsed health system, where over half of public hospitals are out of service, has meant that treatments for diseases and injuries are irregular.

Hoff said that Assad’s government -- which demands to sign off on aid convoys -- is still blocking surgical supplies, such as bandages and syringes, from entering rebel-held areas.

Aid workers say Damascus argues that the equipment would be used to help insurgents.

“What has been a problem is the regularity of supply,” she said. “The (government) approvals are sporadic.”

Syrian officials could not be reached for comment on Thursday or Friday.

More than 6,500 cases of typhoid were reported this year across Syria and 4,200 cases of measles, the deadliest disease for Syrian children, Hoff said.

There was just one reported case of polio, which can paralyze children within hours, in 2014 following a vaccination drive, but other new diseases appeared, including myiasis, a tropical disease spread by flies which is also known as screw-worm, with 10 cases seen in the outskirts of Damascus.

Syrian activists in the Eastern Ghouta district of Damascus said that tuberculosis was also spreading due to poor sanitary conditions and a government siege on the area, blocking aid.

The United Nations called on Thursday for more than $8.4 billion to help nearly 18 million people in need in Syria and across the region in 2015.

Hoff said that the WHO delivered more than 13.5 million treatments of lifesaving medicines and medical supplies in 2014, up nearly threefold from the year before.

But the problems were growing at an even faster pace, Hoff said, with poor water access and deepening poverty worsening the health crisis: “The needs are not possible to believe.”

Editing by Crispian Balmer

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