Getting medical aid kits
into Syria is no easy task
Getting humanitarian supplies into conflict
zones like Syria is no mean feat, often
requiring negotiations with warring parties,
braving insecurity and facing repeated
delays and logistical challenges.
But aid workers can make it happen.
In one of the latest examples, 54 tons of
much-needed medical supplies arrived in
Syria in April, destined for people living
close to the frontlines of the conflict in the
biggest city Aleppo.
“More than 60% of the hospitals [in
Aleppo] are out of service. Many are at the
frontline and used by armed personnel,”
said Fares Kady, medical coordinator for
the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC)
and the focal point for the World Health
Organization (WHO) in Aleppo.
IRIN tracked the shipment, from the
first phone call from a WHO official in
Switzerland, all the way to the doctors in
battle-scarred Syria on 13 April.
Olexander Babanin is a supply officer with
the WHO Crises Support team in Geneva.
In October last year he made a call to a
medical supplies company in The Netherlands
to order medical kits to restock the
standby supplies at the UN Humanitarian
Response Depot in Dubai.
“When the logistic supply chain starts,
it is often not known where the medical
assistance will in the end exactly go,” Babanin
“[It] all depends on requirement and
availability. My job is to make sure that
warehouses are full, but of course never
The international humanitarian logistical
network means emergency stocks can
be pre-positioned in key parts of the world
for rapid mobilization.
Medical kits like the ones that ended up
in Aleppo are standardized packages of drugs
and medical equipment, designed to be useful
in a variety of regions and situations.
The Interagency Emergency Health Kit
(IEHK) is composed of some 90 different
types of drugs and 90 medical consumables
and equipment packed in 44 boxes.
A single medical kit weighs just over
a ton and its content meets the needs of
10,000 persons for three months.
WHO is the coordinating authority for
international health within the UN system,
and every five years an inter-agency
committee consisting of pharmacists and
technical staff from different relief organizations
decides what essential drugs and
medical supplies will be included in the
The aim is to meet priority health care
needs of a displaced population without
medical facilities or a population with disrupted
At the end of 2012 in the town of Gorinchem
in the western Netherlands employees
of the Medical Export Group (MEG),
a commercial firm, pack the medications,
spinal needles, surgical equipment, and
other items into labelled boxes.
Like Babanin from WHO, the MEG
packers are not aware of the final destination
for the aid. The company specializes
in providing medical packs internationally
for humanitarian organizations.
The IEH Kits are loaded onto a ship at
the port of Rotterdam, 40km away, and
shipped to Dubai in the United Arab
United Arab Emirates
By January the latest emergency shipment
is in Dubai, home to the Middle
East UN Humanitarian Response Depot
(UNHRD) run by the World Food Programme
(WFP), which as well as delivering
food aid, provides logistical support
to much of the UN.
Nevien Attalla is the pharmacist with
UNHRD in Dubai, and helped the WHO
medical aid along the next part of the
“The request comes in through the UNHRD customer service mailbox. To
support any emergency response we manage
assets so they are readily available
for deployment within a 24/48 hour time
frame,” Attalla told IRIN.
For this outbound shipment, she has to
seek approvals from the UAE’s Ministry of
Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Health and
the Narcotic & Precursor Chemical Unit
in the capital Abu Dhabi.
She also arranges WFP supporting letters
for each border crossing. As soon as the
shipment is cleared the aid items are packed
up for transportation by truck to Syria.
The medical aid is stocked at UNHRD’s
22,500 square metre covered storage space
in a desert area far from Dubai’s skyscrapers.
The warehouses, part of Dubai’s International
Humanitarian City are close to Jebel
Ali port, the world’s largest man-made
harbour, and also Dubai World Central-Al Maktoum airport.
The heat in this place is often unbearable.
However, inside the warehouses it is
mostly fresh and cool.
“We have 5,000 square metres which are
temperature-controlled between 18 and 25
degrees Celsius. There is also a cold room
to guarantee the storage for cold chain
pharmaceutical goods,” Doris Mauron
Klopfenstein, who works in logistics for
UNHRD, told IRIN.
The hardest and final section of the journey
begins on half a dozen trucks - driven
by Syrian truck drivers, a requirement set
by the Syrian government.
The two-year conflict in Syria has
caused widespread disruption of the health
care system; the 54 tons (52 kits) provide
enough lifesaving medicines and supplies
to cover emergency health needs for three
months for an estimated population of half
a million, potentially a tempting target for
Since the beginning of the conflict WFP
has reported more than 20 attacks on
warehouses, trucks and cars in Syria.
The truck drivers hired by a WFP subcontractor
set off from Dubai and take a
route through Saudi Arabia, Jordan and
then into Syria.
“The convoy remained several days at
the Jordanian-Syrian border because of
heavy fighting between Damascus and Dera’a Governorate,” said Elizabeth Hoff,
head of the WHO office in Damascus.
Heading to the capital they cross
through ever-changing government and
rebel zones, and are frequently held up at
checkpoints. But regular closures at the
airport in Damascus and the length of the
sea route mean trucks are the best option.
On 27 March the trucks finally arrive at
the WFP warehouse in Alkisweh, rural Damascus.
WHO and SARC carry out an assessment
of the supplies, and then the aid is
dispatched to Aleppo, 360km to the north.
WHO distributes 70% of such supplies
through the Syrian Ministry of Health and
the Ministry of Higher Education, and
30% through NGOs.
“Needs in Aleppo are increasing constantly The health system is reeling due to
the lack of medicine and medical instruments,
especially for chronic diseases, and
poor accessibility [geographical, social,
economic and security], raising more challenges
to the Syrian dilemma,” said Kady.
About six million people live in Aleppo
Governorate, but since the conflict started
an additional 1.5 million internally displaced
persons have sought refuge in the city.
“This journey [Damascus-Aleppo] usually
takes about four hours. Nowadays this
road is very important for all parties of the
war. The shipment passed almost 60 checkpoints
and it took 11 hours,” said Kady.
On 13 April the goods are then distributed
to their final destinations - two main hospitals in Aleppo and 10 health centres.
Syrian doctor Kady hopes for more supplies:
“Opening new offices for humanitarian
assistance and installing a safe road
like a humanitarian corridor to Aleppo
would be so important to decrease the suffering
But the possibility of further deliveries
from Dubai is slight at the moment given
the growing insecurity.
While UN officials continuously urge all
parties to respect humanitarian principles
and ensure safe access for relief supplies, “for
the moment no further shipment of medications
is planned from Dubai due to the continuing
bad security situation in the entire
southern part of Syria,” said Hoff.
French Govt provides medical relief
The Union of Syrian Medical Relief
Organizations (UOSSM) issued a statement
late June thanking officials in the
French Government for their generous
donation of medical aid to northern
Syria. UOSSM said it values the efforts
to coordinate the medical and humanitarian
work with UOSSM. Reuters reports
(June 21, 2013) that France made
its largest medical delivery to northern
Syria on 21 June, including antidotes
for nerve agents, channelling non-lethal
equipment as well as medical aid
through the UOSSM.
“We are grateful to the French Government
for their commendable efforts
and the donation to Syrian people, intended
to alleviate the suffering and provide
some of the growing medical needs,”
Dr Tawfik Chamaa, UOSSM spokesperson said. “ We have more than 8 million
Syrians in urgent need of medical care in
addition to food and shelter assistance.
While we acknowledge the difficulties associated
with delivering the relief aid inside
Syria, we are extremely disturbed by
the on-going deliberate targeting of medical
facilities and hospitals inside Syria.
We are struggling to deliver and provide
the basic medical supplies to serve millions
of Syrians, who are either trapped
in besieged areas or incapable to flee the
fighting zones. We call on international
medical organisations, the WHO, and
the international community to increase
and broaden their medical and humanitarian
support to Syrians inside the country
and in the refugee camps.”
- The UOSSM is a non-governmental
association based in Paris -
of upload: 18th Jul 2013