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11 October 2016updated 29 Jul 2021 4:15pm

Inside Aleppo: “the stress of the bombing is making women go in to labour early“

"I didn’t dare drive her to the hospital in case they saw my headlights and attacked the car. A midwife lived close by so I drove her there with the lights off."

9 October 2016

My wife is due to give birth in two days. It’s all I can think about, but when I think about it too much I lose my nerve. Our hospital work has to continue, our field visits still have to continue.

These days we see more and more women in Syria who give birth early at seven months. They’re so traumatised by the constant bombings and attacks that the anxiety induces a premature labour.

When my wife was eight months pregnant with Razan, our eldest daughter who is now three-and-a-half years old, she experienced a huge amount of pain and went in to labour early. It was night, there had been incessant bombing near us and there were still aircraft circling overhead. I didn’t dare drive her to the hospital in case they saw my headlights and attacked the car. A midwife lived close by so I drove her there with the lights off and, thankfully, everything was ok.

I’ve had to move my family a lot since the war began in 2011 because of security. Now we’re renting an apartment near a hospital so that when she does go in to labour, I can take her there without needing to drive.

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But even though my mind is elsewhere — thinking of my unborn child and what kind of future it will have, I am still here, in our underground clinic. A lot of today’s work has only just begun and it will be late before I am back home again. It started off as a normal day: we met at the office at 8am and planned our day, I finished up some desk work and we headed out to a town south of Aleppo to do a field visit at 9am. When we arrived we began our usual morning meeting with the staff to determine the most important needs of the clinic and the patients and what more we can do. Then suddenly there was a monumental crash, it felt like an earthquake had just happened.

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The next door building from us, just five metres away had been hit and was completely destroyed. Most of our building was too but we had moved all of our equipment and patients underground so we were a bit protected. It was still badly damaged though and some of our patients and staff have been injured.

Two young girls in the house next door were killed. My team scrambled out and tried to pull their bodies from the rubble but they were already dead. We knew their parents. The mother and father had gone out earlier with their younger child. We will relocate the three of them and help them to rebuild their home. But that is not much.

The warplanes were still circling above us as we stood there. Sometimes they do a double attack but today we were lucky. All the streets around us were covered in a thick black smoke. It was coming from our warehouse. That had been hit too and everything in it was burned. The smoke was from the fuel we’d been saving for the generator. Everything was destroyed. Our ambulance had completely melted away. All that remained was some iron on the ground.

I’ve moved more of my work here because we cannot work in Aleppo anymore.  My wife was also a doctor in Aleppo but with the constant attacks and the sieges, we couldn’t live there any longer and now we can’t work there either.  We can’t get in. There are around half a million people stuck in besieged areas in Aleppo. It makes my heart feel shattered because what can I do? I can no longer provide people with medicine and food. But even if I could, what good is that? It can’t end the suffering and can’t solve the war.

We heard that the White Helmets failed to win the Nobel Peace Prize. Yes, I think they deserved to win, but what does a prize mean? They are still heroes in the hearts of Syrians.

I’m so grateful to our staff. They have stayed here despite the attack and taken in even more people who were wounded today. There were some that desperately needed dialysis and other emergency treatment but because our generator has gone we have no electricity. As I write they are bringing one from another of our clinics. Then the real work will begin. 

Dr Okba Doghim is a urologist and manager of Syria Relief and Development’s office in Northern Syria. The organisation, with the support of CARE International, runs 21 ambulances in the region and coordinates closely with the White Helmets to provide emergency medical support to communities.