(Photo: Reuters/Hosam Katan)
A doctor helping Syrian refugees in Lebanon has reported a "shocking" number of severe birth defects in newborn babies, while the devastating civil war enters its fourth year with no end in sight.
"In my short time in Lebanon, I've seen more cases of severe birth defects than during my entire career as a pediatric resident," Dr. Nancy Snyderman, chief medical editor for NBC News, wrote in a report on Wednesday.
"Many babies born have major malformations of the brain and nervous system: from minor cases of spina bifida where parts of the brain or spinal cord are outside of the body to anencephalic babies born without the majority of their brain."
Snyderman explained that the reason for these birth defects is a lack of folic acid, a B vitamin, which in the U.S. is found in many breads and cereals and is crucial for the development of a baby's brain. The chief medical editor noted that Syrian women lack routine prenatal care and go to clinics well into their pregnancies, which is too late for the folate acid to prevent birth defects.
A detailed report by human rights group Save the Children published earlier this year noted that the three-year civil war between President Bashar Al Assad's government forces and rebel groups, which has forced millions to flee the Middle Eastern country, has had a devastating impact particularly on children.
The report stated that 1.2 million children are among the refugees, with an estimated 10,000 young people having been killed in the conflict. Another 43 million children in Syria are said to be in need of humanitarian assistance.
"It is not just the bullets and the shells that are killing and maiming children. They are also dying from the lack of basic medical care," the report noted. "Syria's health system has been devastated. As a result, increasing numbers of children are suffering and dying from diseases that would previously either have been treated or prevented from taking hold in the first place."
Last week, the U.N. Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic denounced the world's powers, including the U.S., for failing to intervene in the conflict and thus allowing the ongoing slaughter in Syria to continue.
"States that exert influence on the parties in the Syrian Arab Republic must act to ensure that these parties comply with the rules of international humanitarian law," human rights investigators said in a report. "The Security Council bears responsibility for allowing the warring parties to violate these rules with impunity."
Several Christian missionary groups, including Franklin Graham's Samaritan's Purse, have been working at Syrian refugee camps, providing assistance and reaching out to the people.
The relief work was featured in a February episode of "Fox Files," where the Christian organization noted that it has been providing refugees with necessities such as food, blankets, diapers, shoes, warm winter coats, and kerosene heaters.
NBC also posted a list of various other organizations helping Syrian refugees which people can donate to.