This is Aleppo: In A World Where Doctors Have Become Martyrs & Hospitals Battlegrounds

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Tucked in the lower floor of a building was Al-Quds hospital in Aleppo, Syria, a small 34 bed facility in the Sukkari neighborhood. Its windows and entrance were fortified with mostly sandbags for extra protection despite the many buildings around it that, in theory, protected it from being attacked.

The hospital was not a rebel-run hospital, despite it existing in a rebel-controlled neighborhood. It was a Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) and International Red Cross affiliated institution with an emergency room and an 8 bed pediatrics ward. It was as fully equipped as a hospital in times of war could be.

In the rules of warfare, horrifying as such a notion’s existence is, and as dictated by multiple conventions, notably the Geneva ones, attacks on medical institutions by any side of a conflict is considered a severe violation.

A few hours ago, a fighter jet, flying at low altitude, charged a missile through Al-Quds hospital, to the background of a Syrian citizen being killed every 25 minutes over the past 48 hours.

The jet in question was commissioned by the conjoined Assad-Putin forces trying to reclaim their hegemony over Syria, despite what some anti-resistance news outlets would want you to believe, with them taking videos of the government forces attacking and portraying them as resistance fighters doing so.

The above picture is that of Dr. Muhammad Waseem Maaz. He was a man who spent most of his adult life finishing medical school, and then specializing in pediatrics, before spending his days doing the most self-less thing that any man, especially a physician could do, leave his family behind in Turkey while he helped the ailing children in Aleppo. Al-Quds was the hospital where he worked. Aleppo was the city he called home, the city that is now being ravaged by regime forces. He was the last pediatrician in Aleppo.

As regime fighter jets attacked his hospital head on, Dr. Maaz did not run for his life. He ran to the incubators to try and save as many lives as he could. His life was not one of those that made it out of that building alive, along with 27 others.

His death is not a number. Dr. Maaz’s murder is a war crime, plane and simple. The more horrifying part is that this is not a lone event. His death is one of the most worrying trends of the Syrian Civil War, and conflicts of the 21st century. It’s becoming a trend.

In Syria alone, 654 medical personnel have been killed until September 2015, according to the UN, and, in the past year alone, 7 attacks have been reported by MSF against its facilities in the country.

Syria is not the only place where attacks against hospitals and doctors occur. All sides have been attacking healthcare workers and instutions: rebels, armed groups, and governments.

A few months ago, American military led a 30 minute barrage on an MSF-led hospital which they believed to be a Taliban HQ. They killed 42 people. They justified themselves as it being an “intelligence error.” Intelligence must have come a long way not to be able to differentiate between a hospital and a terrorist haven.

MSF reports their hospitals sustaining 106 attacks in 2015, with the loss of countless lives as well as extremely valuable equipment that is, for thousands and hundreds of thousands, the only difference between life and death.

The most dangerous aspect in such attacks is that they’ve begun to be considered as normal, not as a war anomaly, setting a war precedence into them becoming not only more “mainstream” in conflict, but also more deadly and more unchecked.

The more threatened doctors are, the less they will be willing to work in those areas that require them the most. It’s already started. Over 60% of Syrian areas, for instance, have no possibility to access any

We are doctors, not martyr projects. We work at hospitals, not battle ground sites. We save lives, regardless of who those lives belong to, irrespective of green lines and battle sides. Our lives are not worthier than others, that’s for sure, but us dying because of horrifying war crimes in which we are targets means the lives of those who are equally worthy of saving are lost forever.

We are doctors, not martyrs. We promise to go to the extreme of what we can to save anyone who can be saved. Dr. Maaz was one of those doctors who did just that. The hundreds of MSF doctors who have been killed over the past years have also been doing just that. When did medicine become open season? When did the act of warfare become one that plays out in surgical theaters and in pediatric incubators?

Everyone is at fault. The Assad regime was the culprit in this case, but this is something that everyone is doing. The targeting of healthcare personnel cannot be normalized. In a world where war is everyone’s favorite pastime, certain entities should always remain off limits. These are doctors, not martyrs. They save lives without asking for theirs to be saved. Don’t make them need to.

Aleppo is dying. Aleppo is bleeding. With labels such as “humanitarian disaster” becoming way too common, one cannot but wonder: what is causing this particular disaster? It’s not an earthquake. It’s not a natural disaster. It’s missiles, and terrorist regimes, and armed factions and other men who know no morality. The murder of people just because they exist, the targeting of hospitals just because they are, the killing of doctors just because they are doing their job is not a humanitarian disaster. It’s a war crime. Call it as such.

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R.I.P Maamoun Khaled Mohammad: Dead Because a Lebanese Hospital Refused to Admit Him For Money

In the ongoing bickering between the ministry of finance and the ministry of health, who pays the price?  The poor citizens of Lebanon who can’t afford not being helped do. And they pay their share extravagantly.

Maamon Khaled Mohammad is a baby boy, younger than 2 years old, who died yesterday as Al Shifa’ hospital in Tripoli, North Lebanon refused to admit him. His parents didn’t have money. They were one of many Lebanese families who relied on the help of the ministry of health in order to seek hospitalization.

It is illegal for a hospital to refuse care for a critically-ill patient in Lebanon, regardless of money. But this isn’t the country where legalities matter.

This baby boy is the victim of a decree that the minister of finance Mohammad Safadi did not sign. He is the first of many victims to come if the current situation between the aforementioned ministries continues. But don’t mind the people who are dying, we have a retarded electoral law to ratify and minority MPs to increase and security situations to fix.

North Lebanon is the poorest region in the country with a poverty rate of over 52%. Many of those families don’t have money for food, let alone for our expensive hospitals. What will those families do now? The answer is quite simple: die.

Rest in peace Maamoun Khaled Mohammad.

When Lebanese People Shine In Foreign Countries

As we listen to muftis issuing political stances against civil marriage (link) and await our politicians to agree on an electoral law that will bring them back to power, as a casual bomb explodes in Hay el Sellom and murders get turned into an issue of sect, as we try to  forget about some of the wrong in our country that we can’t fix awaiting our chance at a one way ticket with the occasional round-trip back, some Lebanese are actually making it big. Just not in Lebanon. Can you blame them?

One French afternoon, as my friend and I finished our rotation at the hospital, we were heading back to our apartment blabbing in Lebanese. There’s just so much French that you can take in a single day. We were stopped by a very professional-looking man, suitcase and all. He asked us: “are you Lebanese?”

We said yes. He then asked: “And you’re medical students in France?”

We replied: “No, we’re just exchange students. We’re medical students in Lebanon”

So before he left, he introduced himself as the head of neurosurgery at one of Europe’s leading neuro-hospitals and told us if we needed anything, he’d be more than glad to help.

My friend and I were beyond proud at that point. So we gushed about him the entire way home. That man wasn’t a politician. No one in Lebanon knew who he was. No one in Lebanon knew his accomplishments. But everyone in that hospital knew he was Lebanese and they all had nothing but good things to say about him and the image that he gives us – his people.

Fast forward to this afternoon when another friend of mine who happens to be doing her PhD degree in Lille (pictures), the city in which I spent a month back in August, sends me a picture of a book she found at the city’s main library – a mutliplex called “Furet du Nord.”

The book is among the top sellers in its section. It is part of the curriculum in the fields it discusses. And, as usual, we’ve never heard of it. This is a picture of the book’s front cover:

Neurology book France Lebanese author A Itani E Khayat

Thank you Rasha Dernaika for the picture

Both of the book’s authors are Lebanese. And we haven’t heard of them before. Both of them are helping shape French medical students and education – this is not their only book. Is their neurology book even used in Lebanon? Nope.

This isn’t about the Amin Maaloufs and Khalil Gebrans who are so famous they eventually become unescapable. This is about the regular Joes – like you and me – who won’t become super billionaires à la Carlos Helou or churn out international bestsellers in the dozen. This is about all those Lebanese that make us proud day in day out by them doing their job and excelling at it, by them finding a firm footstep in their society and giving a shining image about every single one of us, regardless of our sect or region. This is about those Lebanese we don’t know and who are doing a much greater job at bettering our image than every single person in Lebanon today. This is about those Lebanese that Lebanon doesn’t even care about.

It’s sad when you realize that all these accomplishments are very much feasible for you. Just not in your country. I could be the one writing neurology books that are used extensively. Just not in Lebanon. You could be that top architect, drawing buildings for the whole world to see. Just not in Lebanon. You could be that top advertising agent, coming up with catchy phrases and pictures. But not in Lebanon.

It’s sad when you know your full potential as an individual when it comes to productivity and self-fullfillment cannot be provided by the confines of the 10452 km² that everyone muses about. It’s laughable when you think about how silly the things that are holding back here are. It’s also depressing when you realize you can’t escape them. Not in this lifetime at least.

So what’s the solution for us? Well, you could be foolishly optimistic and persevere over here because, you know, this is our land. You could know people who know people who make life here much easier for you. Or you could become one of those who constitute one of the few reasons to make us proud about our country – one neurology book at a time.

Cheers to all our expats that are shining bright abroad.

Memorial Hermann, a Houston Hospital, Live-Tweeting Brain Surgery

The day has come where Twitter is used effectively as a learning tool in medecine. Memorial Hermann, an institution based in Houston, Texas is currently broadcasting updates and answering questions during a brain surgery that’s going underway right now. You can check out their Twitter account here.

As a sample of what they’ve been talking, I took the following screenshots:

They’ve also tweeted a few pictures live from the operating room, as well as a brief video of the brain while they operated on it.

I think this is great. While I am familiar with some of the terms they’re throwing around, I think this a great educational opportunity for medical students, current MDs, and knowledge enthusiasts. I hope they do this again some other time as well because it sure is interesting.