Expired medicine, contaminated water, a bug-infested operating room — and innocent children dying of malnutrition with little way to save them.
New video out of Syria has exposed the horrific conditions at a battered field hospital in the rebel-held city of Homs, where doctors face sniper fire and lack the most basic supplies.
"Sick people here do not die due to medical treatment, but because of hunger and severe malnutrition, unhealed wounds, severe lack of food and absence of basic human necessities," one of the physicians, identified as Dr. Mosab, wrote in a letter to Britain's ITV, accompanied by disturbing footage of the makeshift medical center.
The video shows a starving 14-month-old being examined — her distended belly, hollow cheeks and glazed-over eyes sickeningly reminiscent of images from the worst famines. She died within a day, doctors said.
Men carry an injured colleague in this footage said to show an attack on a hospital.
Another child who appears to be suffering from malnutrition howls in pain and the doctor warns, "We urgently need baby milk or more will die."
While Syrian government forces and the rebels have been locked in a battle for Homs, the women, children and injured trapped there "drink from polluted wells and wash in the sewage water," Mosab wrote.
"We eat leaves and rotten rice," he wrote.
The streets outside the hospital are lined with wrecked empty buildings and littered with debris after months of shelling. Inside, it's not much better.
Crude tunnels and trenches have been carved out to protect patients and workers from bullets as they travel between buildings. When night falls, the rats take over.
The operating room is crude, and there is no lab, so they transfuse blood directly from the donor to the wounded, raising the risk of transmitting hepatitis or HIV, Mosab said.
Contaminated water runs from the sink, and bug zappers hang on the wall because there is no way to keep insects out, the doctor said.
Pointing to a wall of nearly empty shelves, he said, "Here we have some medication but most of it is out of date and should be thrown out. But we should use it, because we don't have another choice."
Young boy who works at a makeshift clinic in Syria.
A boy, perhaps just 12 years old, is identified as an assistant, and the doctors said most of the "nurses" in the hospital have no medical background. "Most of the people who should be here fled," he said.
His letter to ITV ended with plea: "We are waiting for your help."
The International Committee of the Red Cross said this week that it could help in rebel strongholds, but the Syrian government won't let them in.
Magne Barth, head of the ICRC's Damascus delegation told of visiting one field hospital desperate for supplies.
"Basically they need everything," Barth said.
"They are working under extremely difficult conditions and I had to tell the doctors who were struggling there —I said, 'I would like to give you everything and I can give you nothing.' Because at this stage we are not allowed to bring in medical aid to medical structures in opposition-held areas."
"This was just one place. Clearly there are huge medical needs in many places of Syria," he said.
"The needs are there. The capacity on our side is there. But we're not able to do what we would like to do to serve the Syrian people under the current conditions."
First published September 27 2013, 2:20 PM