New report released on WHO’s response to the Syrian humanitarian crisis within and from Turkey


The report just released by the WHO Regional Office for Europe on its response in 2018 to the Syrian humanitarian crisis details the operations of WHO’s Health Emergencies Programme and its health impacts for the affected Syrian population. The 2 programmes in the WHO Country Office in Turkey – cross-border operations into north-west Syria and the Refugee Health programme – have tailored their activities to the scale of the emergency and people’s health needs.

“WHO/Europe continues its operations within the wider humanitarian response to the Syrian crisis in and from Turkey, while ensuring sustained support from all levels of WHO,” comments Dr Dorit Nitzan, acting Regional Emergency Director in WHO/Europe. “This enables full alignment of plans and activities with regional and national strategies and ensures joint accountability across the Organization, with partners and stakeholders, for all the beneficiaries.”

8 years into the Syrian conflict

The continuing conflict in the Syrian Arabic Republic has affected millions of lives, causing one of the world’s largest and most dynamic displacement crises. Over half of all Syrians have been displaced from their homes: 40% of them are living in north-west Syria and over 3.6 million are refugees in Turkey. In 2018, despite reductions in the level of hostilities in some areas and in the number of people living in hard-to-reach areas, humanitarian access remained constrained by the conflict.

The health situation continued to deteriorate, with 13.2 million Syrians in need of health care in 2019. As of September 2018, 46% of health facilities across Syria were either non- or only partially functional. Widespread attacks on health facilities and health personnel continued throughout the year, despite international condemnation.

Turkey is now home to the largest refugee population in the world.  This poses challenges to the national health system in terms of shaping policy, organizing services and mobilizing resources. Language and cultural barriers are significant obstacles to refugees’ access to health services, as patients are often unable to describe their symptoms or understand instructions for treatment.  Mental health needs among Syrians continued to rise as the constant exposure to violence and experiences of exile left consequences such as depression, anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder.

Reporting on 1 year of health emergency response

The delivery of the response in north-west Syria and the Refugee Health programme was organized according to the standardized WHO Health Emergencies programme structure, defined as the incident management system. Moreover, the 2 programmes worked under the relevant joint response plans (Humanitarian Response Plan 2018 and Regional Refugee and Resilience Plan 2018–2019).

“This report provides an overview of our response in 2018, highlighting both the cross-border response and the health system response to refugees in Turkey,” explains Dr Pavel Ursu, WHO Representative in Turkey. “With the generous support of our donors we can point to many achievements. We hope to continue serving both the Syrian and the Turkish people in 2019 in the true spirit of universal health coverage and leaving no one behind.”


  • The WHO Health Emergencies teams in Ankara and Gaziantep have ensured that activities are aligned with regional and national strategies and that there is full liaison with and accountability to donors as well as responsibility for public information and advocacy efforts.
  • WHO has coordinated health partners in north-west Syria and in Turkey, pursuing joint strategies and objectives to identify and act upon gaps that continue to affect the health of millions of people.
  • WHO has ensured the collection, analysis and sharing of relevant health-related data among partners to feed programmatic decisions and the definition of priorities for action.
  • A key priority for WHO’s technical support in north-west Syria has been building capacity among health partners to address the urgent health needs in the most severely affected areas and among those displaced by the conflict. In Turkey, efforts have aimed at strengthening a comprehensive refugee-sensitive national health system, under the framework put in place by the Ministry of Health.
  • WHO has ensured operational support for activities in north-west Syria through the provision of medical supplies and equipment. In Turkey, WHO has supported the operating costs of 7 refugee health training centres, including those for staff, consumables and medical supplies.