Statistics: People with the Tears Washed Away

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Wilson_edited-1 (18.02.13)  Syria, a country of 22 million people (only slightly more than my home state of Florida), has been involved in a civil war for the past eighteen months. This is a conflict that has claimed thousands of lives and turned into a humanitarian crisis. The numbers are shocking.


  • There have been more than 70,000 deaths
  • 75 per cent of children have experienced death of an immediate member of their family
  • Two million have been displaced from their homes inside Syria
  • 638,679 have been displaced to other countries
  • 4 million are in need of humanitarian assistance
  • 2.5 million need food assistance
  • 20 percent of farmers have been unable to harvest their crops
  • One in three hospitals has been destroyed by government forces
  • One half have been damaged by government forces
  • Over 150 field hospitals to handle the wounded and displaced have been established inside Syria and at the border with Turkey

But looking at the numbers, statistics if you will, does not tell the whole story. I am reminded of that saying: "statistics are people with the tears washed away". At the meeting of the Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS) this weekend in Clearwater, Florida I heard more about some of the stories behind the statistics - the people.

I heard great frustration and disappointment by those at the conference over what they see as a lack of an adequate response by the international community and the media to the tragedy that is going on in Syria.

I heard frustration and anger that something so wrong could continue for so long.

One physician described fears about winter bringing more danger. He said, "There is no electricity, no bread, no medicine. How will they live? The Syrian winter is a harsh one, very cold and rainy."

An American dentist at the conference told how he had heard that dental care was lacking in refugee camps. He purchased two portable dental units and went to Syria where he provided dental care in multiple refugee camps. Finding the need was great, he purchased two additional units. On leaving, he turned the units over to dentists who were in the camps.

SAMS is involved in a major effort to provide medical relief to wounded Syrian citizens in Turkey, in border refugee camps and inside Syria. Of their 10 chapters nationwide, over 100 volunteer physicians to date have traveled across the Turkish border to reach field hospitals. Once there, these doctors treat hundreds of casualties while under the constant threat of attacks by Syrian military artillery and airstrikes.

Recently, SAMS established the "SAMS Training Mission". The objective is to supply and train local Syrian doctors on various trauma and life support principles and hands-on techniques. This includes didactic and mannequin training as well as treatment of injured Syrians. They report that even physicians from parts of the country not disrupted by the conflict come to get access to the training.

With communication from offices in the US, holding meetings using Skype, SAMS coordinates its relief efforts through field offices in Turkey and Amman, Jordan. It has established eleven hospitals in Syria, supported twenty-five already existing medical facilities, and has appropriated over $2 million in specific relief projects since April 2012.

In addition to injuries due to combat, the war has decimated the country's sanitation, clean water, and sewer capacity with a resulting rise in infectious diseases further compounding health problems caused by wounds from the conflict. The health care infrastructure has also been disrupted - hospitals destroyed - medical professionals leaving. SAMS, looking ahead at what will be needed, is working with a variety of international organizations in recovery planning for the post-conflict period to rebuild Syria's health care system.

My thanks go to the Syrian American Medical Society for this reminder that there are real people behind the statistics. And accolades to its heroic members who in the highest tradition of the profession are caring for those caught up in the violence in Syria 


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.