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Conflict regions vulnerable to COVID-19 catastrophe

Plagued with bloodshed and poor health systems, conflict areas in the Middle East are vulnerable to coronavirus pandemic

Mahmoud Barakat   | 28.03.2020
Conflict regions vulnerable to COVID-19 catastrophe


Specter of the novel coronavirus casts its shadow on areas of conflict in the Middle East, sparking the fear of an imminent catastrophe.

The novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, which first appeared in Wuhan, China last December, has spread to at least 177 countries and territories, according to data compiled by the U.S.-based Johns Hopkins University.

The virus has pushed the health systems of many developed countries to the verge of collapse due to the limited capacities of hospitals. Given the fact that most of the developed countries in the West are themselves struggling to confront the virus, conflicted areas with poor health care systems, coupled with a lack of access, remain the most vulnerable.

Gaza Strip, Palestine

According to the Palestinian government, at least 91 coronavirus cases have been confirmed, nine of whom are located in the blockaded Gaza Strip.

Home to some two million Palestinians, the Gaza Strip has been under an Israeli siege since 2006.

Speaking to Anadolu Agency, Dr. Rami Abadla, consultant and director of the infection prevention and control department said that the Health Ministry in Gaza transferred some supplies and devices from different public hospitals to the field hospital in Rafah, housing nine quarantined patients.

"Gaza hospitals lack basic medical facilities to treat any coronavirus patient," the doctor said.

Abadla warned that the medical system in Gaza would fail to cope up with a possible outbreak of the disease.

"The medical system will fail and eventually collapse in the besieged territory. Due to restrictions imposed by Israel, hospitals are in shortage of sterilizing equipment and other essential medical devices," he said. "I expect more cases to test positive in the next few weeks."

The Palestinian Health Ministry in Gaza has asked for a $23-million fund to curb the spread of the virus amid a severe lack of essential medicines and equipment.

Idlib, Syria

Conditions in Syria's northwestern province of Idlib under attack by the Bashar al-Assad regime and its allies since last May are no better. Attacks have brought the health system to the brink of collapse.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu recently drew parallels between the situation in Idlib and Gaza. He said: "Nine years into the conflict, the province of Idlib has become a new Gaza, where 3.5 million people remain under siege."

The Syrian Civil Defense agency (White Helmets) has launched preventive measures in Idlib against the virus including sterilizing schools and hospitals, as well as providing information on how to take protective measures.

Abdulbaqi al-Maari, head of the Violet Organization, a humanitarian group working in Idlib, said they were working to raise the level of awareness to stop the spread of the virus in the region.

Firas Khalifa, a volunteer with the group, complained that medical staff did not have proper equipment to diagnose the coronavirus.

He asked the World Health Organization (WHO) to procure the necessary equipment for medical personnel working in Idlib.


According to the John Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center, war-ravaged Yemen is among the few countries that have not reported any COVID-19 infections so far.

However, Yemen's health facilities have been severely affected by conflict that has been underway since 2014, when the Iran-backed Houthi rebels overran much of the country including the capital of Sanaa.

The crisis escalated in 2015 when a Saudi-led military coalition launched a devastating air campaign aimed at rolling back Houthi territorial gains.

Although the warring sides -- the Iran-backed Houthi rebels against the Yemeni government and its main ally Saudi Arabia -- have agreed to a cease-fire, experts have expressed doubt on the application and maintenance of the deal.

Tens of thousands of Yemenis, including civilians, are believed to have been killed in the conflict, which has led to the world's worst humanitarian crisis as millions remain at risk of starvation.

On Monday, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called on the warring parties for a humanitarian cease-fire in Yemen.

On Wednesday, he reiterated his appeal, saying: "It is time to put the armed conflict on lockdown and focus together on the true fight of our lives."


In yet another war-torn region, the UN-recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) in Libya confirmed on Wednesday the first coronavirus case in the country.

The UN Security Council on Thursday called for an immediate cessation of hostilities and expressed grave concern at the escalation of fighting and the potential spread of the coronavirus in Libya.

Yet, the fight continues as the GNA has announced the launch of an operation in response to ongoing attacks by the forces of warlord Khalifa Haftar.

Libya's legitimate government has been under attack by Haftar's forces since last April, killing more than 1,000 people.

International efforts to enforce a cease-fire have so far proven unsuccessful due to persistent violations by Haftar-led forces.

Anadolu Agency website contains only a portion of the news stories offered to subscribers in the AA News Broadcasting System (HAS), and in summarized form. Please contact us for subscription options.
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