Official reports suggest 134 people have died from Covid-19 in Syria, but it is widely believed that the number is much higher. Open Doors partners in Syria are responding to the crisis, with your help.
“No one in the streets is wearing a mask,” says a young Christian in Syria. “Whenever I leave my house, I see gatherings of people. No one wears a mask. People make fun of me when they see me wearing one.”
A family in Syria gather for worship
If some people aren’t taking the Covid-19 crisis seriously in Syria, it might be because of the statistics they’re hearing. They sound bad enough: there have been 3171 confirmed cases of Covid-19 in 2020 and 134 people have died. But some believe these are only the tip of the iceberg of the reality in Syria.
“The numbers of infected people and fatalities in Syria are higher,” says Elias*, an Open Doors partner who helps coordinate Open Doors’ work in the country. “The hospitals are full of patients. Recently, the Deputy Director of Health for Damascus said that, in Damascus alone, there are over 110,000 people infected.” This is confirmed by the Middle East Institute, which reported in early August that ‘a worrying rise in daily deaths and infections, especially in Damascus, has left Syria facing what could be its biggest challenge yet’.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) stated on 2 September: “Syrian authorities are failing to protect health workers at the front line of the Covid-19 pandemic in government-held territory. Doctors, aid workers, and civilians, including in government-held Syria, told HRW that the country is overwhelmed, with hospitals beyond capacity, health workers facing serious shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE), and with many of their colleagues and relatives dying after suffering Covid-19 symptoms.”
A worker at a government hospital has also said, anonymously, that there is a dangerous shortage of medical supplies, testing and personal protective equipment, as well as overcrowding in hospitals in cities including Damascus, Aleppo and Homs. Years of conflict mean that Syria simply doesn’t have strong enough economy or infrastructure to implement the necessary levels of testing or provide sufficient care for those infected.
Among the deaths that have been confirmed are three Christian ministers, from different denominations. The fact that three ministers have died – a minority within the minority Christian faith – is further evidence that the crisis in Syria may be much worse than officially suggested.
Reine, a Sunday school teacher, says, “We’ve stopped our Sunday school meeting to protect the children from gatherings. But now they go with their friends to hang out, without paying any attention to the corona situation.”
Elias tells how Open Doors partners in various parts of Syria are distributing hygiene kits to prevent the spread of the virus: “They consist of protective masks, sanitiser, vitamin pills and paracetamol.”
And Open Doors partners continue to respond to the needs of those affected by the economic impact of the pandemic. While some aren’t taking the virus seriously, others have seen their jobs and livelihoods disappear because of measures to prevent the spread of Covid-19. Without any sort of furlough scheme, many Syrians are desperate – even before the virus, years of conflict had left them economically vulnerable.
“Nowadays there are so many people in need." Mourad, Open Doors partner
“Nowadays there are so many people in need, due to the dire economic situation that brought many under the line of poverty,” says Mourad, who oversees the work of Open Doors through churches and local partners in Syria.
“During the war, the church leaders did not want to leave their churches even if there was one person left,” adds Mourad. “Church leaders are trying to encourage their congregations.” It’s that kind of loyalty, and commitment to showing the light and hope of Christ, that has kept Open Doors partners serving their communities throughout almost a decade of war and economic need. Now they need your help to keep supporting vulnerable believers, and others in the community, as the pandemic continues to worsen in Syria.
*Name changed for security reasons