Advising people on what to do during a sarin attack makes a huge difference, too. Many people died in Damascus because they hid in basements, when they would have been safer on the top floors: sarin vapour is heavier than air. For those who have been exposed, the medical advice is clear. Remove clothing, wash with soap and water – and seek out an antidote.
Atropine and pralidoxime are not expensive or hard to administer. They are freely available in Western countries and are standard issue for British and US soldiers in the Middle East. But there is a dire shortage in Syria, and until recently they were not included in emergency medical packages distributed by the WHO and other humanitarian agencies.
Amid the calls for military action, it is easy to lose sight of what would most benefit the Syrian people. In the short term, Western governments are likely to save most lives by supplying the antidotes and educational materials that people desperately need – either by persuading Assad to open supply routes, or by dropping medical parcels and leaflets rather than bombs.