Syrian American Medical Society


Wilson_edited-1 (15.02.13) Tomorrow I will be in Clearwater, Florida (USA) to speak to the annual meeting of the Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS). The theme of the conference, "From Medical Relief to Post Crisis Recovery and Medical Education", is responsive to the needs of their members for continuing medical education while at the same time recognizing the urgency the medical professionals of SAMS feel to respond to the crisis of medical care brought on by the conflict in Syria.

I will speak on the World Medical Association (WMA) perspective on violence in the health sector particularly in areas of armed conflict. I will also report on the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC)/ Red Crescent Society initiative on this subject, "Health Care in Danger", with which the WMA is collaborating.

Other topics during the conference will include an overview of SAMS's medical relief efforts, protection of health care workers in conflict, rebuilding Syria's healthcare system, strategies for healthcare reform, psychosocial sequels of the Syrian crisis and the effect of war on children and family.

SAMS is a non-profit, non-political, educational and humanitarian organization. Its members are medical professionals of Syrian descent.

The objectives of SAMS encompass a range of professional, educational, humanitarian and cultural activities. SAMS has been a consistent voice speaking out in protest to attacks on medical doctors in Syria; providing the names of fourteen young physicians were among those who lost their lives in July of 2012 while attempting to provide medical and emergency care.

To quote from the SAMS web site, "They are among those whose heroic dedication to their responsibilities to save lives put them in danger." And further:

"SAMS renews its condemnation of any targeting of physicians and medical workers by arrest, torture, or killing as a punishment for providing humanitarian and medical help, and asks again all humanitarian organizations to strongly condemn these practices by the Syrian regime."

In multiple communications over the past two years the WMA has spoken out in protest to this injustice. This included a letter last year to President Assad from the WMA, American Medical Association and Physicians for Human Rights copied here.

"Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia
601 New Hampshire Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20037

Dr. Assad,

We write to you as health professionals-as healers who are ethically and morally bound by our duty to provide treatment and care to those in need-asking you to protect the right to health in Syria. The world has heard credible accounts that government forces have:

  1. Denied wounded civilians impartial medical treatment
  2. Invaded, attacked, and misused hospitals
  3. Attacked and impeded medical transport, and
  4. Detained and tortured doctors for treating wounded civilians

In response, brave medical personnel have risked their lives to care for those caught up in the violence-for families whose homes have been indiscriminately shelled by modern artillery, for innocent civilians who have been injured while running for cover from unprovoked sniper fire.

These health professionals have not forgotten their promise to heal-not harm-the people they treat. For more than 2,300 years, this ethical and moral obligation to care for the sick and wounded, without discrimination, has bound the medical community around the world.

And it is this commitment that prompts us to speak for the wounded and those who would help them.

Dr. Assad, any and all assaults on Syria's hospitals, doctors, and patients are a clear violation of the universally recognized principle of medical neutrality, which requires noninterference with medical services in times of armed conflict and nondiscriminatory treatment of the sick and wounded.

As a member of the medical community, we hope you will respect this obligation by ordering your military to cease all attacks on hospitals, medical facilities and vehicles, doctors, nurses, and patients.

At the same time, we call on all parties to the current conflict to respect the principle of medical neutrality and commit to providing emergency medical treatment to all citizens without discrimination."

It is time - past time - to cease attacks on health care professionals and facilities and respect the principle of medical neutrality that is so critical to allowing all citizens to receive care.

WMA President Cecil. B. Wilson, MD travels around the world talking about the WMA's work representing the millions of physicians worldwide. Acting on behalf of patients and physicians, the WMA endeavors to achieve the highest possible standards of medical care, ethics, education and health related human rights for all people. This blog will chronicle these travels and important issues.