After Syria sarin attack, doctors train to treat chemical weapons victims


GAZIANTEP, Turkey (Reuters) – Wearing chemical suits and gasmasks, Syrian doctors rush to a house where white smoke wafts over a group of people choking and coughing, some calling out for help.

It is a training exercise but the scenario is all too real for many of the doctors, who treated victims of a chemical attack three months ago and suffered symptoms themselves after being contaminated by a deadly nerve agent.

Around 100 people were killed in the sarin gas attack on the opposition-held northern Syrian town of Khan Sheikhoun on April 4, the international chemical weapons watchdog OPCW said. Two hundred people needed treatment, including medical staff.

The United States and Western allies blamed the Syrian government for the attack – an accusation President Bashar al-Assad dismissed as “fabrication” – and launched cruise missile strikes on a Syrian air force base in response.

The doctors hope the week-long course in southern Turkey organized by the World Health Organization, will leave them better prepared and better protected for any future attack.

It is the most intensive training on chemical warfare provided to Syrian medical staff, who have also treated patients for chlorine gas attacks during Syria’s brutal six-year war.

Osama Darwish, a doctor at Maarat al-Numan hospital around 20 km (nearly 15 miles) north of Khan Sheikhoun, said his colleagues were overwhelmed when around 100 victims of the April sarin attack started to be brought in.

“That was the first (nerve agent) case that we had dealt with. We had treated for chlorine, but the symptoms of chlorine are different. They were very severe,” he said. Continue reading.