A severe shortage of testing supplies and oxygen in northeast Syria is putting the region’s COVID-19 response in serious jeopardy, warns the International Rescue Committee (IRC).

The COVID lab in Qamishli - which is the only COVID-19 lab run by the Self Administration in the northeast - could be forced to stop COVID testing in less than 7 days due to a critical shortage of RNA extraction kits. This would have a devastating impact on testing capacity, with health professionals no longer able to identify new cases, track trends, or gain an understanding of the true spread of the disease - just as cases are surging. 

The case count for northeast Syria now stands at 15,546 and already in April, over 5,300 new COVID cases have been confirmed - more than half of the total for the whole of 2020. 46% of tests have come back positive over the past 7 days - indicating that, even with the lab currently operational, not enough tests are being carried out, which highlights the extreme fragility of the health system in northeast Syria.

In addition to the urgent need for more testing supplies, COVID Treatment Facilities (CTFs) in the region are also becoming overstretched - many are already at capacity and seven CTFs were forced to cease operating in March due to a lack of funding, with a further six now also at risk. Moreover, there is now an acute shortage of oxygen in Deir-ez-Zor. At least one hospital in Deir-ez-Zor has stated that it is running out of medicines, with management raising concerns that it may need to close its doors if they are not replenished.

Misty Buswell, Policy and Advocacy Director for the IRC in the Middle East and North Africa, said:

“Testing capacity in the northeast has never been sufficient, and now it may be lost altogether. To date, only 41,500 tests have been carried out in the region and if the lab in Qamishli is no longer able to test, then the ability to control the spread of the virus in northeast Syria will be seriously compromised. Although the first doses of the vaccine have arrived in Syria, less than 100,000 have been allocated for the northeast, which is far too few to cover all frontline health workers and those most at risk in the region. As things stand, we do not know when these doses will reach the northeast but, although they will not be a silver bullet, they cannot get there soon enough. Currently, 83% of patients who receive invasive ventilation in the region are not surviving and we fear that things will only get worse. Treatment facilities are being forced to close due to a lack of funding, oxygen is beginning to run out, and COVID cases are reaching the highest levels seen to date. The health system is struggling to cope, and the situation is deteriorating extremely rapidly.”

The health authorities in the northeast have made an urgent call for support to try and address the critical shortage of testing supplies in the region and health agencies, including the IRC, are exploring all options in this regard. The IRC is also making an urgent call for funding and support to the response to fill the extensive gaps that still exist. It is also reiterating its call for the UN Security Council to reauthorise the Yarubiyah border crossing with immediate effect so that UN agencies can use all possible means to support the COVID-19 response, which is currently in serious jeopardy.


About the IRC in northeast Syria

The IRC has been delivering aid in Syria since 2012, and last year - along with partners - the organisation delivered services to almost a million people in the country. The IRC is the largest provider of health care in northeast Syria and is the only international NGO providing mental health services and emotional support across all its medical facilities. The IRC runs women’s empowerment programmes in a number of camps and cities across the region, and provides legal support to IDPs and refugees as well.