MSF, Doctors Without Borders, growing health needs in northwest Syria
Access to Healthcare

Syria's Growing Medical Needs Face Shrinking Funds

International financial support to the health system in northern Syria is in decline. The health needs in the region far exceed the available medical services, with Syrian people bearing the greatest burden due to limited support and the closure of hospitals and health facilities.

Yet, this dire situation is being treated with further funding cuts. Doctors Without Borders (MSF) calls upon the donor community attending the Brussels conference to prioritise the financial support of the Syrian health sector.

MSF, Doctors Without Borders, Syria, growing health needs in but funding decline
Medical services are provided at Al-Maland primary healthcare centre in north-west Syria's Idlib governorate, with the support of MSF. The centre facilitates provides healthcare to thousands of people after they were geographically cut off due to the ongoing war. Northwest Syria, November 2023.
Abdulrahman  Sadeq/MSF

After years of conflict, millions of people in northern Syria are facing even greater challenges to accessing healthcare, with the decline of international financial support for the Syrian health system, says MSF. Nearly a third of health facilities in Idlib and northern Aleppo governorates have either closed or partially suspended activities due to underfunding, leaving 1.5 million people without access to lifesaving and emergency healthcare, with 112 health facilities at risk of closing by the end of June, according to local authorities. MSF urges international donors and governments to immediately boost their financial support for the health system in northern Syria.

Ahead of international donors and donor states meeting in Brussels on 27 May, the situation in Syria is dire. In 2024, US$4.07 billion is the total funding required to respond to humanitarian needs in Syria. However, just six per cent, or $326 million, has been funded through the Humanitarian Response Plan (HRP). International donors and donor states must allocate sufficient funds for healthcare, as the situation is becoming more difficult for people, with fewer functioning health facilities, overcrowding of the ones that are functioning, shortages of medications, and a lack of staff.

We have expressed our concerns on many occasions that the deteriorating health situation in Syria can’t be addressed with further funding cuts. Thierry Goffeau, MSF head of mission for northwest Syria

Lack of access to healthcare in northwest Syria

Patients describing the challenges related to lack of access to healthcare in northwest Syria.
Abdulrahman  Sadeq/MSF

“Syrian people are bearing the greatest burden of the financial shortfall because hospitals are not being funded,” says Carlos Arias, MSF medical coordinator for northwest Syria. “Because of that, when people seek healthcare, they find hospitals either closed, or there’s no doctors or no medications. If they find a doctor, they’re asked to go buy medicine from private pharmacies, which is unaffordable.”

The funding shortfall and the impact on the healthcare system could lead to the deterioration of long-term health conditions, increased outbreaks of diseases, and compromised quality of life for people. Groups such as children and pregnant women could be particularly affected, for example, if vaccination campaigns are lacking. This comes as the region is already reeling following the destruction inflicted by the February 2023 earthquake and conflict, which has endured for more than 13 years.

MSF, Doctors Without Borders, Syria, growing health needs in but funding decline
Medical activities at the MSF-supported Bernas hospital, located west of Idlib on the Syria-Türkiye border. The hospital provides maternal and child health services in an area densely populated with camps for displaced people.
Abdulrahman  Sadeq/MSF

People face growing water scarcity, making them more dependent on water trucking and networks. However, these are hampered by unstable power supplies and high fuel costs. As a result, the lack of water forces people to adopt negative coping mechanisms such as reducing water consumption or using unsafe drinking water.

MSF covers limited needs in delivering critical medical and humanitarian assistance to communities in Idlib and Aleppo governorates. Our teams co-managed or supported six hospitals. In 2023, we have provided over 1 million outpatient consultations and more than 150,000 consultations for non-communicable diseases. Teams assisted more than 20,000 births and provided more than 25,000 mental health individual consultations.

MSF, Doctors Without Borders, Syria, growing health needs in but funding decline
The MSF team conducts medical consultations with patients at a mobile clinic run by MSF in displacement camps in Sarmada area in northern Idlib governorate.
Abdulrahman  Sadeq/MSF

“We have expressed our concerns on many occasions that the deteriorating health situation in Syria can’t be addressed with further funding cuts,” says Thierry Goffeau, MSF head of mission for northwest Syria. “Our teams and partners are witnessing the direct and severe impact due to of lack of funding on patients.”

“We had to leave our homes because of the war and come to northwest Syria. Since we’ve been here, it’s been very hard to get medical care because hospitals that were working have now stopped,” says Salim Mohammed, who is internally displaced in northwest Syria. “I am 68 years old and a diabetic; hospital closures will be a death sentence to people like me.”

In the last few months, 77 health facilities in northwest Syria have been forced to suspend activities due to a lack of funding. Including 17 hospitals, nine of which are women and children’s hospitals.

MSF, Doctors Without Borders, Syria, growing health needs in but funding decline
MSF runs the Hayr Jamous primary healthcare centre near the city of Salqin in Idlib governorate. Nurses and doctors provide support to patients, who face a dire health situation in northwest Syria.
Abdulrahman  Sadeq/MSF

“MSF received requests to directly support at least six hospitals and five basic healthcare centres, among which three are critical in the medical landscape of northwest Syria,” says Karim El-Rawy, MSF Field Coordinator for Idlib. While MSF relies on our own funds, many other NGOs are sustained by public funding, and their work is jeopardized by the cuts.”

To improve access to healthcare facilities for people in northwest Syria, it is essential to secure adequate funding. This will enable the rehabilitation of health structures damaged by earthquakes and ensure the provision of resources for the facilities to become operational and offer, at the very least, the same level of services available before the earthquake. The disparity between rising needs and shrinking funds is both contradictory and unacceptable.