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WHO says 480 need to be evacuated from Damascus suburb with worst malnutrition

by Reuters
Wednesday, 6 December 2017 17:07 GMT

* No green light yet from Syrian govt for evacuation - WHO

* Nearly 500 afflicted with chronic diseases

* Highest malnutrition rate in Syria, UN says (Adds quotes from Egeland on death toll, and Russia, Iran and China unable to help with aid access)

By Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA, Dec 6 (Reuters) - Nearly 500 sick and wounded patients await medical evacuation from the rebel-held Damascus suburb of Eastern Ghouta, something the Syrian government has not granted, the U.N. and World Health Organization (WHO) said on Wednesday.

Malnutrition rates in the besieged area, about a 45-minute drive from the capital, are now "the highest seen so far in Syria since the beginning of the crisis", WHO representative in Syria Elizabeth Hoff said.

U.N. humanitarian adviser Jan Egeland said two patients had died this week while awaiting evacuation, and nine last week.

"We still have no response from the government of Syria on a list of urgent medical cases to be evacuated. Some of these were submitted in September, others in October, others again in November," he told Reuters.

He said the Syrian government's allies including Russia and Iran also seemed unable to unlock aid access in Damascus, despite wanting to do so.

"They are not able to help us deliver. And I cannot understand that leaders, diplomats, generals who have been able to fight a tremendous war that they seem to be winning, and then they are not able to help us evacuate children," he said.

"There's no other way to say it but those who can influence the government have not done their job. And that was to help facilitate our action through diplomatic initiatives."

Almost 200 children are among those on the growing but stalled U.N. list, who mainly suffer from severe chronic diseases including kidney failure, cancer and cardiovascular ailments, Hoff said.

Some war-wounded are among priority evacuees, she said. More than 400 relatives are also seeking to accompany the 480 patients for treatment in Damascus hospitals.

Jets believed to be Syrian and Russian struck heavily crowded residential areas in Eastern Ghouta, killing at least 27 people and injuring dozens in the third week of a stepped-up assault, residents, aid workers and a war monitor said on Monday.

A nutritional survey done in Eastern Ghouta during the first half of November collected data on more than 300 children between the age of six months and five years, Hoff said.

"The survey data results indicate a deterioration in the nutrition situation among children under the age of five years old," the U.N. Children's Fund (UNICEF) and WHO said in the findings.

Some 11.9 percent of the children examined were found to have global acute malnutrition, including 1.6 percent suffering from severe acute malnutrition, which can be life-threatening.

Aid agencies are providing life-saving curative and preventive nutrition services in Eastern Ghouta, through five health facilities and seven mobile clinics in Douma, Harasta and Kafr Batna, it said.

"We delivered 8 tonnes of medical supplies to Eastern Ghouta last month, but it is not sufficient," Hoff said. (Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay and Tom Miles; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

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