School of Medicine

Wayne State University School of Medicine

WSU professor among 55 docs worldwide to sign open letter urging medical support in Syria

Abdulghani Sankari M.D., Ph.D.

Abdulghani Sankari M.D., Ph.D.

A Wayne State University School of Medicine professor is one of 55 doctors from five continents to sign an open letter asking the international community to allow outside support for medical personnel caring for Syrians in need and urging an end to the violent attacks on the nation’s medical facilities, including staff and patients.

(Read the full letter here).

WSU’s Abdulghani Sankari, M.D., Ph.D., was asked by an advocacy organization to co-sign because of his ongoing efforts to organize medical missions to treat Syrian refugees in Turkey’s Hatay province.

“Let us treat patients in Syria,” is featured online and in next week’s issue of The Lancet medical journal. The letter highlights the acute shortage of medical personal, supplies and facilities affecting the people of Syria after more than two years of conflict. The letter states that systematic assaults on medical professionals, facilities and patients are breaking Syria's health care system and making it nearly impossible for civilians to receive essential medical services, including women giving birth and those requiring normal long-term assistance for chronic illness such as heart disease, hypertension and diabetes. The Syrian population also is vulnerable to outbreaks of hepatitis, typhoid, cholera and dysentery because of the civil unrest, the letter states, and lack of drugs has exacerbated an outbreak of cutaneous leishmaniasis, a severe and debilitating infectious skin disease.

“I signed the letter because it is for a noble cause, which is trying to unite the medical community around the world to highlight the urgency of the situation in Syria,” Dr. Sankari said. “The majority of the signatories are not Syrian, but all are medical professionals.”

According to the World Health Organization, 37 percent of Syrian hospitals have been destroyed, and an additional 20 percent are severely damaged.

Dr. Sankari, a native of Syria, is a member of the Syrian American Medical Society, most recently serving a term as vice president. He is an assistant professor of medicine in the Division of Pulmonary, Critical Care and Sleep Medicine, and practices at the John D. Dingell Veteran Affairs Medical Center in Detroit.

Other signatories include three Nobel Prize winners, The Lancet’s editor in chief, Harvard Medical School faculty, the founder of Africa’s largest disaster response organization and the Libyan Transitional Government’s former Minister of Health.

“As a physician it is my duty to save lives everywhere possible. Every day I treat patients and veterans, and many of them are critically ill. It is my duty also, if I'm asked to help people in desperate need, to answer their call,” Dr. Sankari said.

The letter emphasizes the urgency of the situation and references a Violations Documentation Centre, which estimates that 469 health workers are imprisoned in Syria. About 15,000 doctors have been forced to flee abroad, estimates the Council on Foreign Relations. There were 5,000 physicians in Aleppo, the nation’s largest city, before the conflict started, according to the Assessment Working Group for Northern Syria’s Aleppo City Assessment report. There were 36 remaining when the report was published in March 2013.

”The humanitarian crisis in Syria is the largest in recent history, with nearly half of the population displaced, and more than half of the medical facilities are destroyed or not functional,” Dr. Sankari added.

He hopes the letter’s message will reach beyond the pages of the journal.

“I hope this letter increases the awareness of the devastating situation in Syria, unites medical professionals around the world to speak in one voice, advocates for doctors in Syria and convinces the decision-makers and world leaders to take every step possible to protect and support health care in Syria,” he said. “Every one of us can help in this largest humanitarian crisis by advocating, protecting the medical facilities, staff and patients in Syria, and donating and volunteering to provide necessary supplies and patient care.”

Dr. Sankari earned his medical degree from Syria’s Aleppo University in 2000, and his doctoral degree in physiology from the School of Medicine’s graduate program in 2009.

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