Conflicts and Climate Change Are Undermining UHC in Eastern Mediterranean

COVID-19, conflicts and climate change are posing additional challenges to efforts to achieve universal health coverage (UHC) in the Eastern Mediterranean region (EMRO), the World Health Organization (WHO) acknowledged on the eve of Universal Health Coverage (UHC) Day on Monday.

“The COVID-19 pandemic demonstrated the vulnerability of our health, social protection and economic systems,”  Dr Ahmed Al-Mandhari, WHO EMRO regional director told a media briefing on Sunday at the start of a three-day regional UHC meeting.

“Half of all countries in our region are experiencing protracted conflicts and humanitarian crises. Eight of them have reported outbreaks of cholera and acute watery diarrhoea. Extreme climate events, like the floods in Pakistan and drought in the Horn of Africa, are leading to acute hunger and health crisis.”

Dr Ahmed Al-Mandhari, WHO EMRO regional director

Cholera outbreaks signal weak systems

Lebanon had been cholera-free for the past 30 years until a few months back when it reported an outbreak, indicative of challenges to its water supply amid the country’s weakening economic crisis, according to Dr Rana Hajjeh, WHO EMRO director of programme management.

“Cholera is not only a repercussion of climate change,” said Hajjeh. “It is evidence of weak and fragile health systems. We have two countries in the eastern Mediterranean region suffering from cholera at the moment in addition to the six countries where it is endemic. 

“Cholera in Syria and Lebanon is a very grave sign as it is linked to the collapse of the infrastructure, not only the health of infrastructure but also all that is relevant for the cleanliness of water and securing of clean water and services for citizens.”

However, climate change was having a huge impact on the region, Hajjeh acknowledged. The floods in Pakistan, one of the biggest EMRO member states, had disrupted the country’s health systems, while Somalia was in the midst of a very severe drought, and was in a grave food crisis in Somalia “and may be encountering starvation”.

The WHO had developed guidelines for member states on climate change and would assist them to address its impact.

Dr Suraya Dalil (left) and Dr Rana Hajjeh, WHO EMRO director of programme management.

Primary Health Care

“Primary health care is the most cost-effective way to bring services or health and wellbeing closer to individuals and communities. Reorienting our health systems towards the primary health care approach means engaging in multisectoral action, ensuring community engagement, increasing equitable access to quality health services and strengthening public health functions, added Al-Mandhari.

UHC Day is an official United Nations designated day that marks the anniversary of a unanimous decision seven years ago to endorse UHC as an essential component of international development, and work towards achieving this globally by 2030.

“UHC means that all individuals and communities receive the health services they need without suffering financial hardship. It includes the full spectrum of essential quality health services across the life course from health promotion to prevention, treatment, rehabilitation and palliative care,” added Al-Mandhari.

Meanwhile, the WHO plans to mark UHC Day with an event at the FIFA Fan Festival in Doha, Qatar, on the eve of the World Cup semi-finals on Tuesday. 

The WHO also issued its UHC service Package Delivery and Implementation Tool aimed at supporting countries to design and implement comprehensive health service packages to meet the needs of their populations on Monday.

It also launched a digital knowledge hub for the public called, ‘Your life, your health: Tips and information for health and wellbeing,’ to provide people with trustworthy health information.

Image Credits: UN-Water/Twitter .

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