Surgeon reveals horrors of Syrian conflict

By Tim Clarke Thursday 21 February 2013 Updated: 21/02 16:11

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Buy photos » Surgeon Paul McMaster - pictured here with a patient after the earthquake in Haiti - spent five weeks treating the wounded in war-torn Syria. Picture by Julie Remy.

A RETIRED surgeon who spent five weeks treating wounded civilians and soldiers in war-torn Syria has spoken of the dreadful misery facing its exhausted people.

Paul McMaster, who lives near Worcester, has travelled to many corners of the world with humanitarian aid agency Medicins Sans Frontieres to operate on victims at the centre of emergencies in Somalia, Congo and Haiti.

But few have placed the 70-year-old in greater danger than his journey into the hilly rebel-held territory of north west Syria where he joined an MSF medical team operating secretly from a makeshift hospital in a mountain cave.

It was here Mr McMaster witnessed the horrors facing the Syrian people who live in constant fear of the shelling and rocket attacks which ravage the area day and night.

Many are exhausted from a lack of sleep and with no electricity, heating and very little food or clean water their plight is a miserable and desperate one.

Those injured in the blasts found themselves in the care of Mr McMaster and the MSF medics who treated wounds including head, facial and internal injuries as well as limb fractures and open wounds.

"With civilians the injuries were mainly from falling masonry where a building collapsed," Mr McMaster said.

"Sometimes they might have been relatively minor but the shock and psychological trauma is immense. These are people who are exhausted from the struggle they have been going through. There are a lot of infections too from a population that is eating poorly."

A few weeks after Mr McMaster's arrival in Syria it became clear the cave was no longer a safe base for the hospital as the bombing moved closer and they were forced to relocate to an abandoned chicken farm.

"Helicopter gunships would literally hover over the village and drop a cluster of enormous blast bombs which would reverberate through the mountains," he said.

"I found it a very unsettling experience and for the patients that had already been wounded it became very frighting. As the rockets and bombs hit the mountain and lumps started coming off the roof it became very clear the cave might collapse."

Mr McMaster has since returned to England where he is president of MSF UK but for him the risk of entering Syria was one worth taking.

"The reason we are there is the people are struggling and no one else can help them," he said.

"With all that we have in our own lives and knowing the situation that people face out there how can you not help them? For me now it's a privilege to support our teams of volunteers and if we can keep them together and guide them in the right way they will continue to save hundreds of lives."

FOR more information on the work of MSF visit www.msf.org.uk

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Buy photos» A Syrian nurse treats a patient at the MSF field hospital in northern Syria. Picture by MSF.

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