A Crisis Killing Doctors You Should Know About

Photographed by Erin Yamagata.
Nearly 700 medical workers have been killed in Syria since 2011.

Many of those deaths have occurred in the very places doctors, nurses, and paramedics are working to save civilians who have been wounded and killed during a conflict that has raged for four years. At least 313 attacks on health facilities have been reported through September, according to data collected by Physicians for Human Rights.

Hundreds of doctors, healthcare workers, and other advocates are demanding action to address the dangers faced by those trying to the mitigate the damage of a war that has already claimed hundreds of thousands of lives and forced millions to flee the country.

Dozens of bodies covered the sidewalk in midtown Manhattan as rush hour began on Thursday as part of a "die-in" protest staged just a block from the United Nations. The demonstrators wore white coats and held signs listing when and where each medical professional slain during the conflict died.

"We don't want more numbers," said one Syrian dentist, who used the pseudonym Dr. Majed out of concern for his own safety. "It's enough. Let's protect them."

Refinery29 spoke with doctors and advocates attending the demonstration, which included representatives from Physicians for Human Rights, the Syrian American Medical Society, and Doctors Without Borders, about why they were there and what can be done to protect those risking their own lives to save the lives of others. Click through to see their stories.
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Photographed by Erin Yamagata.
"The civil war in Syria was ignored too long and now is an international issue…. Specifically targeting health facilities robs those people who are left there of their most basic rights because you cannot do anything unless you have your health."
—Trip Eggert, communications intern for Physicians for Human Rights
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"One of the most important things that young people can do is advocacy. We're all really connected with social media. Make sure it's a discussion that we're having, to talk about human-rights abuses, not just what's going on in Syria, but abuses happening around the world today," Eggert continued. "It's tremendously important. Make sure you are aware of what's going on. Show up to protests like this one and tweet about issues like this, and make sure that at the very least it's a conversation that's happening at the global scale."
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Each demonstrator held a sign honoring a medical professional killed during the conflict, marking where, when, and how they died.
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"When we protect the most vulnerable, we are lifting up our entire civilization. We need more unity from the United Nations. Will we leave those putting their lives at risk in Syria to suffer alone in the dark? Can we just imagine for a moment how lonely and abandoned those doctors and students and nurses feel today? How alone they feel? We have to love these people."
—Dr. Conrad Fischer, residency program director in internal medicine at Brookdale University Hospital in Brooklyn
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"[The death of doctors in the conflict] brings me great sadness. It brings me, quite frankly, fear because I'm a medical student and I want to provide humanitarian care and provide care here at home. My wife is here. We are worried about me not coming home. With that, I as an individual am implored to show support."
—Jonathan Meadows, second-year medical student at Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine
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Of those killed, 157 have been executed or tortured to death, according to Physicians for Human Rights.
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Physicians for Human Rights believes that 90 percent of the attacks on medical professionals have been committed by Syrian government forces. Russian missiles have also struck several hospitals in recent weeks, they said.
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Demonstrators fill Dag Hammarskjold Plaza — just a block from the United Nations complex — in midtown Manhattan.
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"Ahead of this rally, I spoke with the director of our Sarmin field hospital [in Syria]. He said that every day in the hospital feels like a ticking time bomb. You're just waiting for it to explode. He was in a hospital that was struck last week by what we think was a Russian air-to-surface missile. Two of our staff were killed in that airstike. It was one of 12 airstrikes on our hospitals in October alone."
—Kathleen Fallon, advocacy and communications manager at the Syrian American Medical Society
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"When we talk about the numbers [of dead], the list is too long. [We also need to] talk about people who could be a number one day, people who are arrested because they are providing health services."
—Dr. Majed,* a Syrian dentist from East Ghouta, outside of Damascus

*The doctor asked to use a psyedonym to protect his safety.
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Organizers urged each participant to take a picture and tweet it as the rally came to a close. "Proud to stand in solidarity w/ those saving lives in Syria each day," one wrote.
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“Syria is the most dangerous place in the world to be a doctor. Healthcare personnel and medical facilities are deliberately and routinely targeted as a tool of war. Health care has been denied to Syrians through lack of access, prevention of aid delivery, and widespread attacks on medical facilities and health workers. The consequences of this strategy are devastating to the lives and health of civilians who remain in Syria, including the health workers struggling to save them."
—Dr. Ahmad Tarakji, president of the Syrian American Medical Society
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"With our profession, there's a lot of stress day in and day out, and there's a lot of sacrifice in your family and your personal lives, but to really go in and put your life on the line is a whole new element. I have the utmost respect [for doctors in Syria], and I take my hat off to them because they don't know if they're coming home at night to their kids. I have a 3-year-old daughter and I can't imagine not coming home to her at night."
—Mazal Eduth-Sorkin, medical resident at Brookdale Hospital
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Supply shortages and escalating violence have prevented medical workers from helping tens of thousands of people in need, Physicians for Human Rights estimates.
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"I think it's an injustice that in the war in Syria, bombings are specifically targeting hospitals, healthcare workers, medical students, phsyicians, anyone providing care to those in need. It's a call to action, to say we're here in solidarity. We have the privilege of going to medical school, where we don't have to think about war or any type of injustice or violence, so any call of support or any call to action to the U.N., however unheard, [matters]. Maybe it goes against deaf ears, but I think a first step is important. And to me, this is a first step that I can be a part of."
—Sarah Thappa, first-year medical student at Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine
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Demonstrators listen during the speeches that followed the die-in.
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"We need to stand together to demand action from the international community and the United Nations to enforce its own resolutions and end all attacks on health care. Today, we remember those we have lost and call for protection for those who remain.”
—Dr. Ahmad Tarakji, president of the Syrian American Medical Society
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"We need to stop the apathy and really take this on as a moral obligation to defend doctors, to stop the crisis, to protect people."
—Suzanne Akhras Sahloul, founder and executive director of the Syrian Community Network
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Sahloul said she has worked with refugees who experienced the medical crisis in Syria firsthand. "One refugee family, their father was hit by a sniper. Because of lack of medical attention, by the time they got to the hospital, the father ended up dying…. Two of the girls had shrapnel in their body and they couldn't be treated. They were at that time 16 and 12. Now they're here in Chicago, and one of them, the oldest, who is 19 now, just had the shrapnel removed out of her leg. The other girl, the shrapnel is lodged in her back so they're not sure if they can take it out or not."
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Each participant wore a white coat to represent the doctors, nurses, and paramedics killed on the job.
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The attacks have hit more than 200 separate facilities, according to Physicians for Human Rights. Half the deaths have been caused by shellings and bombings.
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"I can't imagine myself going to the hospital and having a call and then getting killed. You're in a war. You're a doctor, you're just doing your job and helping your patients. It's crazy to get killed. We take a lot of things for granted. We live in a free country, everything is easy…for some people, it's a big stuggle and it's really dangerous."
—Fred Laborde, medical resident at Brookdale Hospital
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"Imagine a world in which hospitals and clinics are routinely bombed. Imagine a world where to seek medical attention is to risk death. Imagine the world watching this happen and doing nothing. And, finally, imagine a world without doctors, nurses, paramedics, and ambulance drivers, because if the Syrian and Russian forces prevail, that could become the reality for millions of people trying to survive in opposition-held and besieged areas of Syria.”
—Dr. Holly Atkinson, past president of Physicians for Human Rights and director of the Human Rights Program at Mount Sinai Hospital, in New York
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The death toll for medical workers includes nurses, medics, and doctors.
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Participants were urged to use the #DefendDoctors hashtag to spread their message and show support for medical professionals working on the ground in Syria.
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Physicians for Human Rights has launched an online petition urging the United Nations to do more to protect health workers in the conflict zone. Click here for more information.
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