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People are seen during shelling in the town of Hamoria, eastern Ghouta in Damascus, Syria, December 3, 2017. REUTERS/Bassam Khabieh

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By Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA (Reuters) - Nearly 500 sick and wounded patients still await medical evacuation from the Damascus suburb of eastern Ghouta, which the Syrian government has not granted, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Wednesday.

Malnutrition rates in the besieged rebel-held area, about a 45-minute drive from the capital, are now "the highest seen so far in Syria since the beginning of the crisis", WHO representative in Syria Elizabeth Hoff said.

A week ago the United Nations called on world powers to help arrange the evacuations saying eastern Ghouta had become a "humanitarian emergency". Nine patients have died in recent weeks while waiting, UN envoy Jan Egeland said at the time.

"The Syrian government has not approved the medical evacuation yet," Hoff told Reuters from Damascus. "There has been no movement.The list of priority patients was provided from the opposition-controlled area about four weeks ago, she said.

Almost 200 children are among those on the growing but stalled U.N. list, who mainly suffer from severe chronic diseases including kidney failure, cancer and cardiovascular diseases, Hoff said.

Some war-wounded are among priority evacuees, she said. More than 400 relatives are also seeking to accompany the 480 patients for treatment in Damascus hospitals.

Jets believed to be Syrian and Russian struck heavily crowded residential areas in eastern Ghouta, killing at least 27 people and injuring dozens in the third week of a stepped-up assault, residents, aid workers and a war monitor said on Monday.

A nutritional survey done in eastern Ghouta during the first half of November collected data on more than 300 children between the age of six months and five years, Hoff said.

"The survey data results indicate a deterioration in the nutrition situation among children under the age of five years old," the U.N. Children's Fund (UNICEF) and WHO said in the findings.

Some 11.9 percent of the children examined were found to have global acute malnutrition, including 1.6 percent suffering from severe acute malnutrition, which can be life-threatening.

Aid agencies are providing life-saving curative and preventive nutrition services in eastern Ghouta, through five health facilities and seven mobile clinics in Douma, Harasta and Kafr Batna, it said.

"We delivered 8 tonnes of medical supplies to eastern Ghouta last month, but it is not sufficient," Hoff said.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Richard Balmforth)

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