Introducing Syria Research Group (SyRG)

The Syria Research Group (SyRG) is a team of primarily Syrian, primarily early-career, primarily health systems researchers, co-hosted by the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) and the National University of Singapore Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health (SSHSPH). We are led by Dr Yazan Douedari and Mervat Alhaffar, with the support of Associate Professor Natasha Howard. We formalised the group in 2020 to focus on conducting rigorous academic research on issues facing Syria and the region, while building collaborative relationships with in-country and diaspora Syrian researchers and professionals.

Key members and collaborators include Dr Aula Abbara an infectious diseases consultant at Imperial College Hospital Trust and co-chair of the Syria Public Health Network, Dr Mohamed Al-Twaish an orthodontist and humanitarian worker in northwest Syria, and Professor Samer Jabbour a clinician and academic at the American University of Beirut.

We are starting with Syria because we are Syrian and know our own country best. This protracted conflict has become one of the most significant contemporary humanitarian disasters in the world, meaning many people express opinions about what is or should be happening in Syria without necessarily having the research evidence to back this up. We want to do our part, by developing and strengthening the public health evidence base for Syria.

Our work thus far has focused on health issues across Syria, in the three main areas of military control and in all provinces. We began by examining health system governance in opposition-controlled areas and are currently examining health systems governance and adaptation across Syria. Our research on COVID-19, funded by MRC/HSRI and FCDO includes perceptions among displaced communities, COVID-19 response governance, and women’s experiences of gender-based violence and everyday sexism during COVID-19.

In October 2020, SyRG co-hosted the second annual Syria Health Research Conference in partnership with other Syria-focused groups including the Union of Medical and Relief Organization (UOSSM), the Syria Public Health Network, Research for Health Systems Strengthening in Northern Syria (R4HSSS) and Research for Health in Conflict in the Middle East and North Africa (R4HC-MENA).  

We want SyRG to be an open platform for collaborative research capacity development, equitable research partnerships, and sharing of localised knowledge. We strive to develop equitable partnerships and participatory, inclusive research projects. This includes working with smaller and less established research institutions and collaborators and seeking perspectives from the full range of health system participants, from the decision-making elite, to the mid-level managers, frontline care providers, private/informal providers, service-users, and allied/support professionals. We are putting particular effort into including women at all levels, as they have been historically under-represented in research in Syria.

Our approach helps us to engage with Syrian professionals who can inform, shape, and contextualise our research. This can be formal, through engagement with our Research Advisory Group or informal, through working with our many volunteer researchers. Longer-term, we plan to extend our research approach to other countries in the region also affected by conflict and displacement, such as Palestine and Yemen.

With FCDO/MENA Hub support, we are producing monthly Arabic-English blogs on a range of public health and humanitarian topics related to Syria on this website, by SyRG and guest bloggers, for both the Syrian community and anyone interested in health research about Syria. We will also share them on Facebook and Twitter.

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