The Syrian regime is “weaponising” children’s health care during one of the worst crises in modern history, a front line doctor has said.

Dr Annie Sparrow said victims had been deliberately deprived of help. She is a paediatrician who specialises in emergency care in conflict zones and visited Syria recently.

She gave evidence to members of Ireland’s Dail parliament and said President Bashar al Assad’s forces had deliberately destroyed hospitals and killed doctors.

“It is weaponising health care in turning people’s need for health care into weapon against them, by depriving them of it.”

She said the Syrian Government had bombed thousands of schools, and warned children were suffering the worst.

“They are the most vulnerable from this policy that means Government is solely in control of an aid effort and exercises its control through its own partners … run by Assad’s family and friends, to determine where the aid goes and ensure it does not reach anywhere it is needed the most.”

In February, the rebel-held Syrian region Eastern Ghouta received its first aid convoy in almost three months with the help of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent.

During the seven-year civil war, hundreds of health workers have been killed, hundreds more incarcerated or tortured, and hundreds of health facilities deliberately and systematically attacked, separate research from the Lancet journal showed.

Attacks on health care have sparked a large-scale exodus of experienced workers.

The rebellion began in 2011 in the southern city of Deraa and led to hundreds of thousands taking action across the country.

Dr Sparrow added: “They did not take to the streets to discover all these new ways of dying, of being shot at, of being disappeared and tortured, of being arrested, of being gassed with chemicals, of being forced to starve to death through siege.”

She said most were only living through the barrel bombs for the sake of their children.

“This is the terrible consequence that we see.

“Children have suffered the worst, they are the most vulnerable.”

The conflict has created 5.7 million refugees outside the country and a similar number of displaced people inside it, Dr Sparrow added.

It has produced a public health “catastrophe”, with polio epidemics devastating the country.

Dr Sparrow gave evidence to the Dail’s Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade and Defence.