The unending Syrian conflict has steamrolled the country's healthcare system, taking an especially heavy toll on children, who are enduring unspeakable suffering on account of dysfunctional hospitals, flight of doctors and a surge in infections, including polio.

A report from Save the Children, released on Monday has pencilled the spotlight on Syria's rapidly collapsing healthcare system. Its findings reveal that as many as 60 per cent of hospitals - an unusually high number - and 38 per cent of primary health facilities have either been destroyed or damaged. Production of medicines has dropped by a steep 70 per cent, and nearly half the doctors have fled from the country.

The conflict has especially hit hard, the embattled city of Aleppo, where instead of 2,500 doctors that are required, only 25 remain. High intensity battles are being waged by government forces and the armed opposition for the control of Aleppo, Syria's largest city, whose fate would be pivotal in deciding the course of the three-year-old conflict, which has already claimed over 100,000 lives.

"Syria's health system is now in such disarray that we have heard reports of doctors using old clothes for bandages and patients opting to be knocked unconscious with metal bars, because there are no anaesthetics," observes the report.

Children have borne the brunt of the devastation of Syria's healthcare infrastructure. The study points to instances when children have had their "limbs amputated because the clinics they present to don't have necessary equipment to treat them". Newborn babies have died in incubators because of power cuts, and the absence of medical staff has caused arriving parents at hospitals to themselves hook up their children to intravenous drips.

From a high coverage of 91 per cent before the war, the country's vaccination programme is now in disarray, dropping to 68 per cent, a year after the fighting began.

Eradicated in 1995, polio had made a fierce comeback in Syria, with the virus now infecting 80,000 children. The sharp drop in the availability of vaccines has also led to a spiral in "deadly diseases such as measles and meningitis".

Analysts say that the grim findings of the report could accelerate demands for a productive dialogue, to end the conflict, between the Syrian government and the externally-backed opposition. Save the Children has appealed to all sides to allow humanitarian groups, freedom of access to all parts of the country.

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