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The front entrance of the COVID-19 Hospital, a specialized facility for coronavirus cases in northeast Syria inaugurated by the Kurdish Red Crescent in Hasakah, April 20, 2020. (Photo: Kurdistan 24/Heysem Heci)

Kurdistan 24: First hospital named COVID-19 set up by Kurdish administration in northeast Syria

HASAKAH, Syria (Kurdistan 24) – The main health organization in the Kurdish-led administration in northeast Syria, the Kurdish Red Crescent (KRC), said on Monday that it had established the first specialized hospital to treat cases of coronavirus in the region.

The KRC announced that it had created a 120-bed facility named COVID-19 Hospital on the outskirts of Hasakah city.

Speaking to Kurdistan 24, Kurdish Red Crescent co-director Sherwan Bery complained, “The World Health Organization (WHO) in a meeting recently promised to provide about 70% of the medical supplies to the self-administration areas, but so far we haven’t received anything.”

Last week, WHO tweeted an announcement that it had dispatched 20 tons of medical equipment to the northeastern Syrian city of Qamishli.

“The majority of this shipment will go to the self-administration controlled area,” Dr Nima Abid, the acting WHO Representative in Syria, told Kurdistan 24 in an e-mail.

The WHO representative explained that the new supplies would be sent to major health facilities throughout northeast Syria, as he described the organization’s distribution plan.

That included “Al-Tabqah Hospital, al-Raqqa Hospital, the health authorities in al-Hasakah and Deir ez-Zor,” as well as “Manbij Hospital, al-Hasakah National Hospital, in addition to the al-Hasakah Department of Health, and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent,” Abid’s e-mail stated.

In describing the new coronavirus hospital, Bery said that it aimed to stop any spread of the disease. “Patients will be received in a wide, well-served space, so any suspected cases will be transferred from the other hospitals in the region to this hospital,” he said.

Bery further explained that having suspected cases and medical personnel in one place would help to stop the dissemination of the virus across the area.

“We aimed to gather the health staff for training here, rather than spreading them across the region,” he said.

KRC staff at the new hospital are being trained by the international aid group Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders), and other groups providing medical support.

Dr. Bernard Kouchner, a former French Foreign Minister, who has taken a particular interest in Kurdish affairs, is a co-founder of Medecins Sans Frontieres.

The staff at the COVID-19 hospital will receive specialized training on dealing with cases of the highly contagious deadly virus.

The KRC also announced that it would soon set up another hospital for coronavirus cases in the self-administration region of Manbij in Aleppo governorate as well. 

Kurdish Red Crescent (KRC) & Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC)

The Kurdish Red Crescent (KRC), founded in 2012 after the outbreak of the Syrian civil war in 2011, operates in the self-administration areas, but Damascus has not allowed it to operate in the areas that it controls.

Last week marked the first time that KRC ambulances arrived at the Qamishli International Airport, which is controlled by the Syrian regime.

Their purpose was to check passengers coming from Damascus and keep them in quarantine, a procedure mandated by the self-administration to stop the spread of the coronavirus in northeast Syria.

However, the KRC ambulances were expelled by Syrian regime authorities after about two hours.

“The regime authorities at Qamishli airport refused to cooperate with the self-administration health teams to test the new arrivals from Damascus for coronavirus,” Dr. Jiwan Mustafa, head of the Health Authority in northeast Syria, told Kurdistan 24.

“Rather,” he explained, “their staff helped several new arrivals sneak into the self-administration areas without passing through our checkpoints and without being tested for the disease.”

Any organization operating in the Kurdish administration area is considered illegal by the Syrian regime. That includes dozens of international NGOs operating in the self-administration areas.

For example, several staff members of Medecins Sans Frontieres were arrested by regime forces in Hasakah two years ago and imprisoned in Damascus on the charge of working with a “terrorist organization.”

The Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC) is treated very differently. Founded in 1942, during World War II, when the country was under occupation by British and Free French forces, the SARC operates in Syrian regime areas, as well as some of the self-administration areas.

SARC has a headquarters in Damascus and fourteen branches in the fourteen governorates of Syria.

Considered legal and licensed by the Syrian regime, SARC serves as a partner to several official international organizations operating in regime areas, like the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the World Health Organization (WHO.) Those organizations are allowed to deal with and provide support to local organizations that have been licensed by the regime. But it is very difficult for them to deal with or support the self-administration organizations.

This is due to the ongoing political dispute between the Syrian regime and the self-administration. In 2012, Syrian regime forces withdrew from the country’s northeast and left it for the Kurdish self-administration, even as Damascus has never recognized the self-administration.

The regime officially considers the self-administration areas as “outside the areas of the control of the Syrian Arab Republic.” Any organization, or even cars and other vehicles with self-administration license plates, are not allowed to operate in the regime areas.

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