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Because of the increasing use of vaccinations and various preventive measures, health conditions in Syria generally improved in the 1980s. Malaria, and to a lesser extent tuberculosis, declined, but gastrointestinal and parasitic diseases were endemic, particularly among the rural population. Diphtheria and tetanus also plagued rural communities, and there was a high rate of infectious diseases, heart disease, and cancer in urban areas.

Syria's Ministry of Health had a budget of approximately LS 187 million in 1985. As a socialist government, Syria provided virtually free medical care to its citizens and imposed a ceiling on charges by private hospitals.

In 1984 there were 41 state-run hospitals and 139 private hospitals in Syria. The state hospitals averaged 200 beds each, while the private hospitals averaged only 20 beds each. As of 1980, Syria had established state hospitals in every province except Al Qunaytirah; however, these public facilities were concentrated on Damascus, which had 15 public hospitals with a total of 3,801 beds, and Aleppo, which had eight state hospitals with a total of 1,870 beds. Private hospitals were likewise concentrated in Damascus and Aleppo. Syria also had established 503 public health clinics throughout the country.

Syria's public health program was augmented by programs administered by the Ministry of Social Affairs and the Ministry of Education. The Ministry of Social Affairs provided vaccinations, medicine, and maternity care at rural community development centers throughout the nation. The Ministry of Education administered a preventive medicine and dentistry program for schoolchildren. In 1981, this program operated with a staff of 62 physicians, 22 dentists, and 110 nurses in 160 schools, and Syria was implementing plans to double the size of this program.

Syria had 5,543 physicians in 1985, one for every 1,792 people. There were 2,045 dentists, one for every 4,858 people. Syria had 7,923 nurses and 2,071 midwives. In 1984, 948 medical doctors graduated from Syrian universities.

Syria's socialist government provided extensive welfare services to citizens. Most welfare programs were administered by the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor, which in 1985 had a budget of LS 265 million. This ministry controlled labor unions, set minimum wages, was in charge of occupational safety, paid social security premiums, and operated orphanages, institutions for the handicapped, and rural community development centers. Many citizens had access to subsidized public housing.

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The scholarly literature on religion in the Middle East is vast, expanding, and subject to constant revision and analysis. For a comprehensive and challenging history of the founding of Islam and its subsequent development and meaning, Marshall G.S. Hodgson's three-volume The Venture of Islam is highly recommended. Islam and the Arab World, edited by Bernard Lewis, is a well regarded collection of monographs by numerous specialists in the field, as are The Cambridge History of Islam, edited by P.M. Holt, Ann K.S. Lambton, and Bernard Lewis, and Religion in the Middle East: Three Religions in Concord and Conflict, edited by A.J. Arberry.

In contrast, literature on Syrian social systems written by trained social scientists remained scanty in 1987. Because of the vital importance of sectarian differences and disputes within the society, such studies as Robert M. Haddad's Syrian Christians in Muslim Society: An Interpretation, which contains valuable insights into religious life in both communities, are among the more useful sources for further reading. The articles by A.R. George, Donald M. Reid, and Gordon Roberts present material on some of the minority communities, and Frederick Jones Bliss' The Religions of Modern Syria and Palestine contains observations on contemporary society. (For further information see Bibliography).

Data as of April 1987

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Syria Table of Contents