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15 Harvard Health Policy Review 17 (Spring 2014)


For health policy, armed conflicts constitute one of the most severe emergency contexts in which health, well-being, and determinants of health are threatened. The Syrian civil war has proved no different, as health experts re­peatedly lament the humanitarian debacle the Syrian conflict has become. The main distinguishing feature of the Syrian civil war has been the large-scale use of chemical weapons in August 2013. This essay analyzes the chemical weapons crisis and its diplomatic resolution from a health policy perspective, with particular attention on whether the handling of this crisis created positive health policy “spillover” opportunities for more effectively addressing the broader humanitarian disaster in Syria. The essay concludes that the chemical weapons crisis did not create such opportunities but rather harshly highlights the limited influence health policy has in preventing war and respond­ing to the humanitarian crises armed conflicts cause.