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Syrian doctors turn to smuggling supplies as war rages on

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In one room of the warehouse, a box is piled high with “sandwiches” – blister packs of related drugs that have been pulled out of the packaging and wrapped in cling film, making a fist-sized bundle. More drugs and equipment cover the carpet. The doctor explains how he divides the supplies into kits for different purposes. The surgery kit is roughly the size of a backpack, stuffed with gowns, gloves, bandages, paraffin-coated burn gauze, sutures, chest catheters, syringes — enough supplies for one operation. There are even individually-sealed brushes soaked with iodine for hand cleaning. “Most of our operations are not in hospitals,” he says. "Maybe in houses, so there is no water, no alcohol.”

The anesthesiology kit is smaller: a little bag full of vials of ketamine, adrenaline, antibiotics, and other supplies. These, the doctor says, are particularly hard to get in Syria — because they are addictive drugs, only one company manufactures them, and it’s a government company. There’s another kit for bandaging wounds. The kits can be packed together, or smuggled in piece by piece, depending on what kind of transport is available.

The two doctors don't move the kits themselves and rely on the guile of others: kits can be hidden in legitimate cargo, or concealed in cars, or carried across the border at night by relatives or professional smugglers. Refugees who have entered Jordan unnoticed can be used to carry goods back. Even large pieces of medical equipment can be broken down and sent piece-by-piece, the doctors say.

Bashar Al Assad has taught us these new skills,” says one. “We haven’t had anyone come and teach us, we’ve been learning as we go along.”

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