This is a guest article on behalf of Doctors Without Borders in the wake of the reported chemical attacks in Syria.
According to the latest update from Doctors Without Borders/ Medecins Sans Frontieres, three hospitals in Syria's Damascus governorate that are supplied by Doctors Without Borders reported that they received approximately 3,600 patients displaying neurotoxic symptoms such as convulsions, excess saliva, pinpoint pupils, blurred vision and respiratory distress, in less than three hours on the morning of Wednesday, 21 August.
These patients were treated using Doctors Without Borders-supplied atropine, a drug used to treat neurotoxic symptoms. So far 355 of those patients reportedly displaying neurotoxic symptoms have died.
Due to security concerns, no Doctors Without Borders staff have been able to visit the hospitals who reported these symptoms, but the accounts come from medical facilities with which Doctors Without Borders has had effective and reliable collaborative relationships. DWB are neither able to confirm the cause of the illnesses and deaths nor establish who may be responsible, but the reported symptoms, the massive influx of patients in a short period of time, and several other factors, strongly indicate mass exposure to a neurotoxic agent.
Unfortunately, when medical personnel treat patients exposed to a neurotoxic agent, they too are at risk of becoming ill. Sadly, the doctors in one of the hospitals reported that 70 out of 100 volunteers suffered symptoms after direct contact with patients and that one person has died.
While calling for a thorough, independent investigation, Doctors Without Borders has continued its work in Syria and assisting Syrian refugees in neighboring countries - click here for a previous article of mine on this. DWB are now trying to replenish the empty stocks of atropine to the facilities that reported the attacks and are dispatching 15,000 additional vials to other facilities in the area. Treatment of patients with neurotoxic symptoms is being fully integrated into medical strategies in all of DWB programs in Syria. The organisation adds:
The medical and humanitarian response in Syria is already pushed beyond its limits, with hundreds of thousands of men, women and children already killed, injured and displaced. The medical infrastructure in the country has been crippled by the deliberate destruction of hospitals and other medical facilities.