Media centre | News | Shortages in life-saving medicines in Syria of major concern to WHO, 8 March 2013


Amman, 8 March 2013 – Prior to the crisis in Syria, more than 90% of medicines were locally produced. Since then, the effects of economic sanctions, currency fluctuations, difficulty in the availability of hard currency and an increase in operational costs have negatively affected the production of medicines and pharmaceutical products. The escalation of clashes has resulted in substantial damage to the pharmaceutical plants located in Aleppo and Rural Damascus governorates, where 90% of the country’s plants are based. Many of the plants have reportedly been destroyed or are closed because the workers cannot access their work place. As a result, local production of medicines has been reduced by 90%. Additionally, the main government storage facility for imported medicines, which included most of the required needs for the first quarter of 2013, has been destroyed.

Assessments by WHO indicate that insulin, oxygen, anaesthetics, serums and intravenous fluids are no longer available inside Syria to meet needs, with health facilities and local pharmacies increasingly unable to provide medicines, particularly those for the continuous treatment of chronic diseases.

Until recently, WHO had been unable to assess the extent of damage to public health due to the lack of a reference pharmaceutical list assessed and validated by experts on the basis of WHO’s Essential Medicines List. To overcome this obstacle, health experts from Syria and pharmaceutical experts and health professionals from WHO and Jordan met in Amman to address critical shortages in medicines and medical supplies inside Syria, resulting in an updated Essential Medicines List for the entire country.

Reflecting disease profiles, current gaps and critical needs, the list is an essential tool for enhancing the effectiveness of the international community’s emergency health response by enabling projection and quantification of essential medicine requirements and the development of standard procurement procedures.

WHO has evaluated the needs for the next 12 months in terms of essential medicines, medical supplies, medical consumables and anti-cancer medicines, and estimated that these will require a minimum of US$ 900 million. A list of the most urgently-needed and life-saving items has also been developed, containing 168 items (92 urgently needed essential medicines, 33 cancer medicines and 43 consumables) and estimated to require US$ 467 million for 2013.

Four-year old Fatima from Syria was diagnosed with carcinoma eight months agoFour-year old Fatima was diagnosed with carcinoma eight months ago. She used to receive treatment at Aleppo University Hospital, but the ongoing fighting in the city forced her family to flee their home town and relocate to Jaramana, near Damascus. “My daughter used to be treated with radioiodine, but the medication is no longer available in Aleppo,” her mother said. “Here [in Damascus] we regularly go to al-Assad Hospital but they don’t have the medication either. They said they don’t have the required materials. I don’t know what that means! I just want Fatima to receive her treatment.” If Fatima does not receive her radioiodine treatment soon, her chances of surviving cancer will be in danger.

» Read Fatma’s story

WHO calls on the international community for urgent support to cover these critical gaps in essential medicines inside Syria. It is essential that cash or in-kind donations be delivered through bilateral or multilateral channels and adhere to WHO’s drug donation guidelines. For coordination purposes and to enable WHO to keep track of gaps, donors and charity organizations are also requested to inform WHO of their donations with regards to specifications and quantities.

For more information, contact:

Elizabeth Hoff
Acting WHO Representative in the Syrian Arab Republic
E-mail:  This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

Gerald Rockenschaub
Emergency Support Team
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