Annie Sparrow, a medical doctor, is an Assistant Professor at the Arnhold Global Health Institute at the Icahn School of ­Medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York. (May 2015)

The Awful Diseases on the Way

Sonia Shah’s Pandemic: Tracking Contagions from Cholera to Ebola and Beyond should be required reading for anyone working in global health. It should also alert a much wider audience to the ways that many kinds of the microorganisms called pathogens have caused Western pandemics of chronic, or so-called noncommunicable, diseases. Many of our most familiar diseases are set off or directly caused by pathogens.

Syria: Death from Assad’s Chlorine

Mass graves for the hundreds of civilians who died in sarin attacks on the Syrian town of Zamalka in eastern Ghouta in August 2013. After the attacks the Syrian government, under the threat of US military retaliation, agreed to the elimination of its chemical weapons but was able to keep its stockpiles of chlorine, which it has reportedly used in attacks on civilians.
Recently, the Syrian government has used chlorine directly against civilians as a chemical weapon. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has thus transformed a principal element of public health into a tool of both disease and terror.

Fighting Polio in Syria: Save the Children Responds

Health workers carrying polio vaccine, as part of a vaccination campaign organized by the opposition Assistance Coordination Unit, Aleppo, Syria, May 5, 2014

In response to Annie Sparrow’s recent article on the public health crisis in Syria and in particular the threat of polio, The New York Review has received the following statement from Save the Children-UK. A reply by Sparrow is posted beneath the statement. —The Editors

Syria: The Other Threat

A health worker giving polio vaccine drops to a child, as part of a vaccination campaign organized by the opposition Assistance Coordination Unit, Aleppo, Syria, May 5, 2014

The threat of epidemics spreading from Syria to surrounding countries has grown with frightening speed. Among the diseases that have spread most rapidly are measles, hepatitis, and leishmaniasis. Then there is polio, a terrifying disease of early childhood that had long been eradicated in the Middle East. In Syria, it was eliminated in 1995, yet since mid-2013 the country has faced an outbreak of polio that has spread widely across opposition-controlled areas of the north. And now polio, like the jihadists, has spilled across the border to Iraq.

Syria’s Polio Epidemic: The Suppressed Truth

A health worker talking with a family in Aleppo before administering polio vaccinations, January 2014
Syria has become a cauldron of once-rare infectious diseases, with hundreds of cases of measles each month and outbreaks of typhoid, hepatitis, and dysentery. Tuberculosis, diphtheria, and whooping cough are all on the rise. Upward of 100,000 children are stigmatized by leishmaniasis, a hideous parasitic skin disease that flourishes in war. Many of these diseases have already traveled beyond Syria’s borders, carried by millions of refugees. And now polio is back.

Syria’s Assault on Doctors

A destroyed ambulance in Aleppo, Syria, January 12, 2013

Over the last few weeks, the growing plight of Syria’s civilian population has drawn belated international attention to the country’s failing health system. In late October, in the eastern part of the country, the World Health Organization confirmed an outbreak of polio; and reports of malnutrition and disease in the besieged areas on the outskirts of Damascus and other embattled cities have raised new fears of a spreading public health disaster. But these developments are not simply the unfortunate effects of an increasingly brutal war. They are connected to something far more sinister: a direct assault on the medical system by the Syrian government as a strategy of war.