Exclusive: WHO says Syria approves medicine deliveries to Aleppo, other areas

A woman carries a child as she walks past a boy selling yogurt along a street in Aleppo's Bab al-Hadeed district December 10, 2014. REUTERS/Mahmoud Hebbo (Reuters)

By Oliver Holmes BEIRUT (Reuters) - The Syrian government has approved the delivery of medicine and surgical supplies to three areas of the country aid workers were previously unable to reach regularly, including opposition-held Aleppo, the World Health Organization said on Monday. All sides in Syria's three-year civil war have prevented medicine from crossing front lines fearing it could be used to help wounded enemy fighters. This has deprived trapped civilians from life-saving medical assistance. Elizabeth Hoff, the WHO's Syria representative, told Reuters the government has now promised access to Aleppo, the besieged Damascus district of Mouadamiya, and Eastern Ghouta, outside the capital. "It is something that we have been negotiating, after the constraints we've had, we have had top level meetings. There has been a willingness from the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. We see a positive outlook," Hoff said. “We have had some constraints in the past with delivering surgical supplies, syringes, but the situation is much better at the moment," she said. The United Nations says 4.7 million Syrians live in areas that are hard to reach, including at least 241,000 people who remain besieged by either government or opposition forces. "We have actually got promises to deliver to Aleppo and the hard to reach areas around Aleppo. This will happen this week. And next week we have deliveries for Mouadamiya, which has been besieged for a long time," she aid. United Nations peace envoy Staffan de Mistura has proposed a freeze in fighting in Aleppo to help get humanitarian assistance into the city that has been divided for more than two years between opposition fighters and government troops. "We also promised to deliver vaccines for regular vaccination programs to Eastern Ghouta which has been closed for a long time," Hoff said. "These are the prospects for the next two weeks and approved by the government.” Syrian activists in these areas say disease is spreading due to poor sanitary conditions and government siege. A plunge in vaccination rates from 90 percent before the war to 52 percent this year and contaminated water have allowed disease to take hold. Insecurity from the war remains the biggest impediment to aid deliveries, Hoff said. More than 200,000 people have been killed in Syria's conflict, which began in March 2011 with popular protests against President Bashar al-Assad and spiraled into civil war after a crackdown by security forces. (Editing by Jeremy Gaunt and Dominic Evans)