ALEPPO, Syria — Skin diseases, in particular scabies and head lice, are raising concerns among residents and medical staff in the rebel-held part of Aleppo. Head lice, which first appeared in October in the al-Sukkari neighborhood, has now spread to most of the city’s neighborhoods, especially those close to the front lines.
This prompted a team of activists from the National Campaign to Combat Epidemics in Aleppo to declare Dec. 17 that scabies and lice have reached “epidemic” proportions in the areas controlled by rebels. The team called on all health and relief agencies and other organizations to intervene to fight this “humanitarian catastrophe.”
The campaign to fight these afflictions began around a month ago, but it has so far been limited to schools. Al-Monitor visited a school in the Bustan al-Qasr neighborhood where activists were examining students for scabies and lice and providing instructions on how to avoid them.
While examining the hair of a student with lice, Samar Ayoubi, a campaign supervisor, told Al-Monitor, “Scabies and lice are quickly spreading, especially in schools. Two weeks ago, the rate of scabies was 35% and 25% for lice in this school. Today, it has reached 45% for both diseases even though we distributed medicine to the affected students.”
Ayoub added, “We need a huge quantity of medicine to distribute to the residents to completely eliminate these diseases and prevent them from reappearing. The Red Crescent promised to provide the needed medicine after the medical storage provided by Medical Relief for Syria ran out.”
On Dec. 3, the Red Crescent transported a shipment of medicines for combating scabies and lice through the Bustan al-Qasr crossing, which separates the areas controlled by rebels from those controlled by the regime. The shipment included 2,800 packets of medicine that were distributed to hospitals and medical centers in opposition-controlled areas. This shipment appears to be rather small, however, in light of the extent of the spread of scabies and lice in Aleppo.
A Red Crescent volunteer, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Al-Monitor, “4,000 bottles of benzyl benzoate lotion for scabies and body lice are going to enter through Bustan al-Qasr crossing.” The volunteer also said that the International Committee of the Red Cross is hoping to provide an estimated 35,000 bottles of medication, but “processing the shipment and getting authorizations might take a while.”
The situation on al-Tom Street in al-Sukkari, where scabies first appeared, is horrific. Because the neighborhood lies near the Ramouseh and Sheikh Said fronts, it has been exposed to continuous shelling, which led to basic services being cut. There is no water and no electricity. The piles of rubble from bombings have become garbage dumps. The residents share one water well for drinking and washing. It is a breeding ground for skin diseases like scabies and lice.
A resident of al-Tom Street carrying water to her home said, “I have a 10-year-old child, and so far he has not been affected by either scabies or lice. I shower him every day, but most of our neighbors have scabies, and this is why I do not allow him to play with the children here.”
Staving off the skin diseases that have spread throughout her neighborhood will be an ongoing battle. The mother lamented, “No one cares about us. Medicine was distributed once, but there was not enough for all the patients. If water is not provided, and garbage is not taken care of, the diseases will appear again.”
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