The use of chemical weapons in Khan Shaykhun, southern rural Idleb, Syria, that killed more than 70 persons including a number of children is highly deplorable and a crime against humanity that has angered the whole of the world. Different versions on who is responsible for it would be debated for long to get political mileage out of it. The visuals of people suffering from this Sarin gas are very gruesome and disturbing. A similar gas attack in Syrian town of Ghouta in 2013 claimed more than 1700 lives. Kurdish groups in Iraq suffered a major blow to their population when around 5000 of them were killed in a similar gas attack during 1988.
Sarin is a colourless and odourless gas and the person inhaling it can’t judge its impact on him. Sarin gas is a nerve agent which affects the neuromuscular junctions and degrades the neurotransmitter acetylcholine and hence the nerve impulse can’t reach the muscles which in turn lose their ability to contract. The muscles which help in breathing are worst affected and the person cannot breathe resulting in asphyxia.
Sensing the gravest danger to human lives due to chemical weapons on the basis of past attacks resulting in painful deaths, a united effort was launched by a large number of countries. Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) was formed which vigorously pursued the agenda of destroying the chemical weapons and met with a tremendous success. Till April 2016, 192 countries have given consent to Chemical Weapons Convention (which outlaws the production, stockpiling, and use of chemical weapons and their precursors). Egypt, North Korea and South Sudan have yet not signed this treaty, however, International dialogue and influence is necessary to bring them to tow the line of the convention. Meanwhile countries and groups which violate the treaty must be dealt with sternly.
Professor S. P. Singh, Ph.D.
Editor-in-Chief, Human Biology Review
Former Dean, Faculty of Life Sciences,
Punjabi University, Patiala, India