Northwest Syria: Women face serious health challenges due to lack of funding

On a cold, rainy day, a woman and her husband arrive on a motorcycle at an MSF-backed hospital in Syria’s northwestern Idlib province. She came to give birth. Her name is Ratiba, a displaced mother of four children, three of whom were born during the Syrian conflict. She raises all four of them in a tent and struggles to make ends meet. Like thousands of women in Syria, she was diagnosed with malnutrition during her pregnancy. As a result, she says she suffers “permanently from dizziness, hypertension and fatigue”.

A Médecins Sans Frontières midwife examines a newborn baby in an incubator at a hospital run by Médecins Sans Frontières government in northwestern Idlib. © Abd Almajed Alkarh – 23 February 2022

additional challenges for displaced Syrian women

Ratiba is not alone in this difficult situation. Today, northwestern Syria is home to 4 million people (inclusive) 2.7 million internally displaced persons) and which 80% are women and children. For more than a decade, Médecins Sans Frontières has seen how women – like the rest of the population – have been directly affected by the conflict and its consequences. Many of them live in unsafe conditions and suffer from food insecurity. Existing challenges, such as sexual violence and Early marriage, further exacerbate their vulnerability. “Even the normal stages of a woman’s life, such as menstruation, pregnancy or breastfeeding, become a complex burden,” explains Teresa Graceffa, medical coordinator for Médecins Sans Frontières in Syria.

access to health care is not guaranteed

Access to healthcare is another major challenge due to insecurity, long distances to travel to health facilities and due to cost of service and transportation. “A woman far from home recently gave birth near the entrance to an MSF-supported hospital,” said Caroline Masunda, MSF’s medical adviser in Syria. No ambulance available, she was waiting to have enough money to pay for the transport. It is worrying due to Late arrivals at birth can lead to medical complications for mother and baby. »


Eleven years of war have also had impact on mental health women, and many of them suffer anxiety, depression or post-traumatic stress disorder. It says most women and young girls who receive psychological support in MSF structures their distress is directly or indirectly related to the conflict. “I recently referred a 25-year-old displaced mother of five to a mental health specialist when she showed symptoms of depression. She was so overwhelmed with grief that she could no longer breastfeed her newborn baby. says Soumaya *, a Health Mediator from Médecins Sans Frontières.

A health worker from the Artsen Zonder Grenzen checks the blood pressure of a female woman in a mobile clinic of the Artsen Zonder Grenzen during a visit during a fight in the public government of western Syria.
A MSF health worker checks the blood pressure of a displaced woman at a MSF mobile clinic during a visit to a camp in the Idlib government in northwestern Syria. © Abd Almajed Alkarh – February 22, 2022

Médecins Sans Frontières provides sexual and reproductive health services

Since 2012, Médecins Sans Frontières has been offering sexual and reproductive health services for women in northwestern Syria. This includes prenatal, postnatal and neonatal care as well as maternity care (including cesarean section), gynecological consultations, family planning and mental health support. In 2021, we participated more than 18,000 deliveries in the provinces of Aleppo and Idlib and provided more than 200,000 sexual and reproductive health consultations whether it is in hospitals jointly administered by Médecins Sans Frontières, in health centers or in mobile clinics.


As humanitarian needs continue to grow, the fragile health care system in northwestern Syria is facing structural difficultiesand the lack of funding remains a major challenge.

In the camps for displaced persons that MSF teams visit, women regularly express their concerns reduced availability of maternity and childcare services. “Every time we go to the nearby hospital, we see fewer doctors and nurses, and most services are often unavailable Explains Fatima *, mother of seven children who recently had an abortion. “I learned that the hospital where my daughter was born is now closed,” she adds.

a negative impact on access to essential services

Last year, Médecins Sans Frontières experienced several healthcare institutions and projects reduce operations or close after losing financing. Moreover, during the conflict, hundreds of medical structures were damaged or destroyed. Many medical personnel were killed or fled the country. Important medicines and medical supplies are often unavailable. All this had one bad influence on access to essential services for pregnant women, young girls and their newborns.

A comprehensive study of a resident woman is buried in a hospital run by Artsen Zonder Grenzen in the Idlib government in western Syria.
A nurse is examining a displaced woman who gave birth at a MSF-run hospital in Syria’s northwestern Idlib government. © Abd Almajed Alkarh – 23 February 2022

IN RESPONSE TO THE WAKING NEEDS, MSF has intensified its activities

In response, MSF intensified its activities to address one 50% increase in deliveries at three of its co-administered hospitalswhere cesarean section also tripled in 2021. This increase continued in the first two months of 2022.


It is clear that humanitarian action does not meet the needs, and there is an urgent need to increase funding for life-saving activities, including sexual and reproductive health services in the country, which are fully part of it. “Women in northwestern Syria need quality, long-term sexual and reproductive health care for a chance at a healthy life. Now is definitely not the time to give them up, ”says Dr. Faisal Omar, MSF’s Head of Mission for Syria.

* Names have been changed to protect the identities of those who testified.


In northwestern Syria, MSF currently supports 7 hospitalsincluding a unit for victims of severe burns, as well 12 primary health centers and 3 ambulances for referrals. In addition, MSF supports 11 mobile clinics serving camps for internally displaced persons. MSF also performs water, sanitation and hygiene activities in nearly 100 internally displaced camps in the northwestern part of the country.

In northeastern Syria, MSF delivers immunization support in 12 places. It operates a primary health clinic, a program for non-communicable diseases, mobile wound care and a reverse osmosis facility to supply drinking water to Al-Hol. MSF also manages two clinics for non-communicable diseases and provides primary health care, including treatment of tuberculosis in detention centers. In addition, MSF supports a hospital, as wellan outpatient clinic including emergency casesand launched one nutrition program.

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