Syrian patients receiving treatment in a basement-turned-clinic in the besieged rebel-held town of Douma, on the outskirts of Damascus, on March 16, 2017. (SAMEER AL-DOUMY/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)

Article initially published by Foreign Policy on October 24, 2018 and written by Annie Sparrow

Biological warfare is generally understood as the deliberate wartime introduction of a lethal pathogen with the intent to kill or maim. Syria under President Bashar al-Assad is pursuing a sinister variation – one with long and dangerous historical precedents. Assad’s government has allowed pathogens normally controlled by public health measures – such as clean water, sanitation, waste disposal, vaccination, and infection control – to emerge as biological weapons through the deliberate destruction and withholding of those measures. The conflict has in effect reversed public heath advances to achieve levels of disease not seen since the Napoleonic era.

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