By the end of 2018, the conflict in the Syrian Arab Republic had led to an estimated 13 million people in need of humanitarian assistance, including around three million people living in north-west Syria where the situation remains volatile. Hostilities continue to take a toll on civilians. In December 2018, the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution authorising the continuation of cross-border delivery of humanitarian aid for United Nations humanitarian agencies and implementing partners. More than half of Syria’s health facilities have been damaged or destroyed and health workers are among those leaving the country, creating critical gaps in the provision of lifesaving and essential health services.
Turkey is home to the largest refugee population in the world. Even so, 3.6 million Syrian refugees have seen their access to health services improved thanks to system-wide interventions led by the Ministry of Health. These interventions are aimed at reducing language and cultural barriers with the integration of Syrian health care workers and translators into the Turkish health care system. The Ministry of Health and health sector partners are also focusing on strengthening care for noncommunicable diseases, mental health, reproductive and sexual health and infectious disease surveillance at the national level, including the intensification of routine immunisation efforts.
WHO’s Health Emergencies team in Turkey continued its work to mitigate the effects of the conflict on the health of millions of Syrians in both northwest Syria and Turkey. The Country Office works in close partnership with the Ministry of Health. Working under the relevant joint response plans (Humanitarian Response Plan 2018 and Regional Refugee and Resilience Plan 2018–2019), WHO has developed and implemented several activities to bring a prompt and effective response to the acute health needs of this population.
The WHO Health Emergencies team in Turkey has led the Refugee Health programme and cross-border operations from, respectively, the WHO Country Office in Ankara and the field office in Gaziantep. The team ensured that activities are aligned with regional and national strategies, that there is a full liaison with donors and accountability and responsibility for public information and advocacy efforts.
WHO has coordinated the health cluster in north-west Syria and health sector partners in Turkey, pursuing joint strategies and objectives to identify and act upon gaps that continue to affect the health of millions of people.
WHO has ensured the collection, analysis and sharing of relevant health-related data among partners to feed programmatic decisions and definition of priorities for action.
A key priority for WHO’s technical support in north-west Syria has been building capacity among health partners to address the urgent health needs in the most severely affected areas and among those displaced by the conflict. In Turkey, efforts have aimed at strengthening a comprehensive refugee-sensitive national health system, under the adjusted national framework put in place by the Ministry of Health.
WHO has ensured operational support for activities in north-west Syria through the provision of medical supplies and equipment. In Turkey, WHO has supported the operating costs of seven refugee health training centres, including those for staff, consumables and medical supplies.