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War Leaves Syrian Children Without Adequate Health Care

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Children in Syria aren't just threatened by violence in the war-torn country but also face a severe lack of medical care that has resulted in a devastating health crisis, according to a report released Sunday by a children’s rights organization.

Syrian children “are not only killed by shells and bullets, they are becoming sick and dying because they cannot access the healthcare they have a right to,” said the report released by the group Save the Children — just six days before the three-year anniversary of the civil war in Syria.

This week, NBC News will launch a special series "Forgotten? Syria's Children of War." The live documentary will unfold on Tuesday and Wednesday, following the lives of Syrian children over 48 hours on NBCNews.com, TODAY, and Nightly News.

“So many of the deaths are tragic and, with medical care, could have been prevented.”

Over 1 million children have fled the conflict and struggle to gain access to medical assistance in refugee camps, while another 4.3 million children within Syria face the same dilemma, according the report, citing UNICEF.

That's because destroyed hospitals outnumber functioning facilities, doctors have fled and medicine and supplies have dried up as a result of the war, the report notes.

An alarming sixty percent of hospitals are destroyed, the once-sufficient rate of drug production has fallen by 70 percent and nearly half the doctors have fled the country, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

Save the Children also pointed out that the scope of the crisis may be even worse than they could conclude — since gathering data in a war zone is hazardous and challenging and because certain regions of Syria are isolated.

Adding to the problem, displaced families have no way of getting children vaccinated and as a result, measles, meningitis and even polio are on the rise, according to the report. Twenty five cases of polio — which was eradicated in Syria in 1995 — have been confirmed, the report said. Eighty four measles cases were reported in the first week of 2014 alone, while in the entirety of 2010, only 26 cases of measles were reported, according to WHO.

Some children have little chance of surviving early on, as postnatal services are scarce and expecting women have trouble clearing check-points and securing ambulances in order to travel to the hospital, the report said. Once babies are born, frequent power cuts halt heat and incubators needed to keep both healthy and sick newborns warm.

“So many of the deaths are tragic and, with medical care, could have been prevented,” Save the Children spokeswoman Francine Uenuma told NBC News Sunday .

Uenuma pointed out that many of the medical difficulties children face are not directly related to the war, but the war prevents them from getting the care they need. Even if enough medicine were available, people wouldn't be able to get to it, she said.

Image: A doctor uses an mobile phone to provide light during an operation on a baby suffering with Down's Syndrome
A doctor uses an mobile phone to provide light during an operation on a baby suffering with Down's Syndrome at a field hospital. Despite being well organised, municipal services here suffer from a lack of infrastructure due the ongoing conflict in Syria.Sam Tarling / Save The Children

Save the Children is urging the international community to act upon a United Nations resolution that calls on an increase in humanitarian access to Syria.

“If the political will can be found to allow chemical weapons inspectors to reach besieged areas, the international community must surely be able to find the will to allow medicine, vaccines and other desperately needed aid to reach children,” the report said.

Save the Children also called on those in the conflict to cease attacks on hospitals and health care providers. A 2013 report by the Human Rights Council found that government forces “repeatedly” attacked hospitals to deprive medical care to those thought to be affiliated with opposition groups.

In peace-time, the child mortality rate was 15 per 1,000 and the life expectancy was 76 years, according to UNICEF.

“Three years from the start of the conflict, the story could not be more different,” the report said, even though Save the Children could not determine the current child mortality rate due to a disintegrating health infrastructure.

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