Arab health sector a casualty of war
Cairo - Improving medical services, coping with health problems created by the influx of a large number of refugees and halting the migration of skilled professionals remain key challenges facing the Arab health sector, said a top official in the field.
Apart from disrupting health services and crippling the sector, wars in Arab states pose tremendous challenges, Said el-Hadi, the head of the Health Division of the Arab League, said in an interview.
Hadi, a former plenipotentiary minister and the deputy Moroccan permanent representative to the Arab League, is also head of the technical committee of the Arab Health Ministers Council. Established by Arab foreign ministers in 1975, the council is responsible for examining health problems in the Arab world and finding solutions.
The technical committee seeks to ensure the implementation of the council’s decisions, devise unified plans and offer support to Arab states in cases of medical emergencies or wars.
Hadi said conflicts in Arab states, such as Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Libya and Somalia, have tragically affected their health sectors.
“This makes it necessary for other Arab states and the international community at large to join hands to offer emergency health support and ensure that this support reaches the needy in conflict zones,” Hadi said. “This will ensure that health crises befalling these zones will not become out of control.”
By the end of 2015, the humanitarian situation in Syria had deteriorated due to indiscriminate and relentless attacks on health care facilities and staff, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said in a report.
Civilians continued to bear the brunt of the crisis and malnutrition rates increased, especially among children younger than 5 years, the organisation added in its 2015 annual report on the health situation in Syria.
The report said patients with chronic diseases often lack access to life-saving medicines and continuity of care.
WHO estimated the number of people wounded each month in Syria at 25,000. Many of the victims were severely injured and lifelong disabilities are common.
The health organisation noted that almost two-thirds of Syria’s population had no access to safe water, increasing their risk of waterborne diseases.
WHO’s reports on Iraq, Libya and Yemen are not much better.
Hadi said chronic diseases, including infantile paralysis and cholera, are re-emerging in those countries, long after they had been eradicated.
“War is always about the destruction of infrastructure and water and electricity shortages,” Hadi said. “It is also about the spread of disease and the lack of medicines and medical equipment.”
During an early March meeting in Cairo, the Arab Health Ministers Council decided to draw up a plan of action on the immediate needs of the health sector in Arab states embroiled in military conflicts.
The council also plans to increase its support to Arab states, including Jordan and Lebanon, receiving hundreds of thousands of refugees from conflict zones.
Hadi said most of the pressure from the refugee crisis is borne by the health sector in the host countries. He added that host countries have to offer cancer care and kidney dialysis to refugees, even though those treatments are very costly.
“The same countries have to offer specialised health care to the refugees although they have limited financial resources,” Hadi said. “Major health problems can happen if the situation continues in these countries as is.”
The health situation in the Arab world is not totally bleak in Hadi’s view, however.
He said that, while Arab states struggle to fix their health systems and others suffer shortages of funds, professionals and up-to-date equipment, some are making clear progress regarding the health services they offer their citizens.
Gulf states, the countries of the Arab Maghreb, Egypt, Lebanon and Jordan have managed to make real advances, he said.
“Other Arab countries need to make good effort to join these countries making progress,” Hadi said. “I have hopes that Arab states will achieve the 2030 sustainable development goals, capitalising on political Arab and international commitment in this regard.”