In the region of 500 people may have been affected by the suspected chemical attacks in the Syrian city of Douma last weekend, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
In a statement, the organisation said reports suggest around 500 people presented to health facilities exhibiting signs and symptoms consistent with exposure to toxic chemicals last Saturday, including severe irritation of mucous membranes, respiratory failure and disruption to central nervous systems. More than 70 people sheltering in basements have reportedly died, with 43 of those deaths related to symptoms consistent with exposure to highly toxic chemicals, it said.
Dr Peter Salama, WHO Deputy Director-General for Emergency Preparedness and Response said “we should be outraged” at the reports and images from Douma and said the WHO wants “immediate unhindered access to the area to provide care to those affected, to assess the health impacts, and to deliver a comprehensive public health response”.
While the WHO has no formal role in the forensic investigation of the use of chemical weapons, it has been engaged in public health preparedness for their use in Syria since 2012. Last June, it began shipping medical kits to northern Syria for the treatment of chemical exposures.