King Salman receives Eid greetings from Turkish leader

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Updated 24 May 2023
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King Salman receives Eid greetings from Turkish leader

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia's King Salman received a phone call on Saturday from the president of Turkey.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan congratulated the king on the approaching Eid Al-Adha festival.
King Salman reciprocated, "praying to God to restore this occasion to all Muslims with goodness and joys," the Saudi Press Agency (SPA) reported.
During the call, the two leaders reviewed the relations between their countries were reviewed, SPA said.


Exodus of doctors and health workers leave sick and ailing Syrians out on a limb

Updated 11 min 4 sec ago
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Exodus of doctors and health workers leave sick and ailing Syrians out on a limb

  • Sanctions, isolation, earthquakes and a grinding civil war have devastated Syria’s health system
  • Overwhelmed, under-resourced, and often unpaid, medical personnel are leaving for Europe in droves 

LONDON: More than a decade of civil war, economic sanctions, regional tensions, and a devastating earthquake have left Syria’s healthcare system in tatters and, according to a top World Health Organization official, forgotten by the international community.

Hanan Balkhy, WHO’s regional director for the Eastern Mediterranean, said last week that almost half of Syria’s health workers had fled the war-torn country. She called for innovative approaches to halt the exodus of Syrian medical staff abroad.

In an interview with the AFP news agency, she said that young doctors needed to be offered better prospects than practicing “fourth-century” medicine amid dire conditions, “where you cauterize people and send them on their merry way.”

An injured man receives emergency treatment at the Samez hospital following bombardment by pro Syrian regime forces in rebel-held northwestern city of Idlib on October 6, 2023. (AFP)

The International Rescue Committee highlighted in a 2021 report that about 70 percent of the medical workforce had fled the country, leaving one doctor for every 10,000 people.

Balkhy told AFP that in addition to earning extremely low wages, if any at all, Syria’s medical staff faced a severe shortage of resources and equipment, including operating rooms, sterilization units, and medications.

However, according Dr. Zaher Sahloul, a Syrian-American critical care specialist and president of the medical NGO MedGlobal, every young Syrian physician he knows either plans to or dreams of leaving Syria and pursuing opportunities in other countries, “especially Germany, other European nations, or the US.”

“The flight is across the board and not related to war or conflict,” he told Arab News.

According to data released by the German Medical Association earlier this year, 6,120 Syrian doctors work in Germany without holding a German passport. These doctors account for 10 percent of the EU country’s foreign medical staff.

Balkhy said many young doctors in Syria are learning the German language on the side “so that they can be ready to jump,” which she believes is a significant concern for the region and its population.

But she also believes that finding creative solutions may encourage Syrian doctors to stay or return to their country — a choice she says many would make “willingly” with access to adequate support.

Sahloul says the main reasons behind the exodus of medical workers “are the economic collapse, hyperinflation, corruption, the collapse of the healthcare system due to long years of war, the regime’s policies of destroying what is left and pushing away anyone who wants to leave, and the lack of a viable political solution.”

Following a brief visit to the country between May 11 and 16, WHO’s Balkhy described the healthcare situation as “catastrophic,” warning that the number of people in need is “staggering, and pockets of critical vulnerabilities persist in many parts of the country.”

In a statement published on May 18, the WHO official wrote that intensifying tensions in the region, including the Israeli operation in the Gaza Strip and the Iran-Israel shadow war, have exacerbated this catastrophic situation.

The civil war has forced more than 14 million Syrians to flee their homes and seek refuge both within the country and beyond its borders. Among them, more than 7.2 million remain internally displaced, while about 70 percent of the population needs humanitarian assistance, according to UN figures.

Balkhy said in her statement that she was “extremely alarmed” by the increasing malnutrition rates among children under 5 and nursing mothers as a result of rising poverty.

The UN warned last year that 90 percent of Syria’s population lived below the poverty line, with millions facing a reduction in food rations due to a shortfall in funding for aid agencies.

According to the WHO regional director, almost three-quarters of all deaths in Syria are caused by chronic conditions, including cancer, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and mental health disorders, many of which are going untreated.

She also noted the number of burn injuries in Syria has been disproportionately high, especially among children, as people, deprived of traditional means of heating and cooking, burn unsuitable materials, such as tires, plastics, and fabrics.

Fumes produced by burning these substances also result in respiratory issues.

INNUMBERS

• 70 percent Proportion of Syria’s medical workforce that fled the country, leaving one doctor for every 10,000 people. (IRC, 2021)

• 6,120 Number of Syrian doctors working in Germany, accounting for 10 percent of the country’s foreign medical staff. (GMA, 2024)6,120 Number of Syrian doctors working in Germany, accounting for 10 percent of the country’s foreign medical staff. (GMA, 2024)

• 65 percent Proportion of Syria’s hospitals deemed fully operational, making access to healthcare heavily constrained. (WHO, 2024)

• $80 million Funding needed by the WHO for 2024 to ensure access to health services and prevent further deterioration in Syria.

With just 65 percent of hospitals and 62 percent of primary healthcare centers fully operational, combined with a severe shortage of essential medicines and medical equipment, access to healthcare is constrained.

Before the war erupted in 2011, Syria’s pharmaceutical industry covered about 90 percent of the national needs of medicines, according to a 2010 paper by academics from the University of Medicine and Pharmacy in Romania.

In 2013, WHO reported that the country’s local drug production plunged after the fighting caused substantial damage to pharmaceutical plants in the governorates of Aleppo and rural Damascus.

Poverty also creates significant barriers to accessing medical services and affording essential medicines, said Balkhy.

What concerned her most was “the fact that almost half of the health workforce, which forms the backbone of any health system, has left the country.”

An investigation by Arab Reporters for Investigative Journalism last year found that although the exact number of Syrian physicians who left the country remains unknown, the true extent of this exodus is larger than the NGOs and the Syrian government have reported.

“Retaining a skilled health workforce and ensuring sufficient medical supplies in Syria and across the region is a key priority,” said Balkhy.

She proposed engaging young Syrian physicians on research projects with a pathway to publishing so they can “feel that they’re doing something worthwhile,” in addition to ensuring they “at least have the equipment” to perform operations.

For Sahloul of MedGlobal, fostering a belief in a brighter future is essential to retaining both new and seasoned doctors.

“What will encourage young and old doctors to stay in Syria is believing in a better future — a new leadership that respects its human capital,” he said.

Sahloul said that international and Arab actors need to devote more attention to finding a genuine solution to the Syrian conflict — “one that ensures respect for human rights and dignity, and focuses on rebuilding.”

He added: “The current Arab normalization with the regime is flawed because it gives no hope for any meaningful change.”

Sahloul said normalization’s priorities, including refugee repatriation, curbing the manufacture of and trade in the amphetamine drug Captagon, and limiting Iran’s influence, “are not the most important priorities to the young graduates and aspiring doctors in Syria.”

Balkhy emphasized that the decline in humanitarian funding for Syria was a “central and troubling concern.” 

For instance, Al-Hol camp in Syria’s northeast — home to the wives and children of Daesh militants captured in 2019 — has grappled with many significant challenges since funding shortages forced WHO to halt medical referrals, prompting camp administrators to revoke its access.

Talks with donors in the capital Damascus during her five-day visit revealed that while they acknowledge the extent of gaps and needs, they are hampered by competing regional and global agendas.

Medecins Sans Frontieres warned on April 29 that the severe lack of funding for a vital WHO-funded medical referral system in 11 camps in northeast Syria “will lead to a marked increase in the number of preventable deaths.”

WHO said in March that it required $80 million in funding for the year 2024 to ensure the continuity, quality, and accessibility of health services and infrastructure in Syria, and to prevent a further deterioration of the already precarious situation.


 


KSrelief chief discusses aid efforts in Gaza with Palestinian ministers

Updated 11 min 56 sec ago
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KSrelief chief discusses aid efforts in Gaza with Palestinian ministers

RIYADH: The general supervisor of Saudi aid agency KSrelief, Abdullah Al-Rabeeah, on Wednesday discussed the situation in Gaza with the Palestinian minister of health, Majed Abu Ramadan, and minister of social development, Samah Abdul Rahim Hussein Hamad.

Their meeting took place during “Call for Action: Urgent Humanitarian Response for Gaza,” an international emergency conference that began in Jordan on Tuesday.

They discussed “the delicate humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip and ways to deliver aid to those displaced there,” the Saudi Press Agency reported. They also exchanged views on the main topics addressed by the conference.

The Palestinian ministers thanked the Kingdom, as represented by KSrelief, for the aid and assistance it has provided to the people of Gaza to help alleviate their suffering during the current humanitarian crisis. They expressed their sincere appreciation in particular for the support provided by Saudi authorities to healthcare efforts in the territory.


Saudi crown prince declines Italian invitation to attend G7 Summit session due to Hajj commitments

Updated 8 min 39 sec ago
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Saudi crown prince declines Italian invitation to attend G7 Summit session due to Hajj commitments

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has declined an invitation to attend a communication session of the G7 Summit in Italy on Friday.

He sent a message to Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni thanking her for the invitation but said he is unable to participate because of his obligations to supervise the work of officials in the Kingdom during Hajj season, the Saudi Press Agency reported on Wednesday.

The prince noted the strength of the relationship between their countries and wished Italian authorities success in hosting the summit.

Italy will host the annual summit of leaders of the G7 group of major democracies from June 13 to 15 at Borgo Egnazia, in the southern Puglia region. Hajj will begin on June 14.


Saudi leaders send condolences to Kuwait’s emir over victims of deadly fire

Updated 48 min 2 sec ago
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Saudi leaders send condolences to Kuwait’s emir over victims of deadly fire

  • 49 people were killed by a blaze south of Kuwait City that broke out around dawn on Wednesday in a 6-story building housing nearly 200 foreign workers

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s King Salman on Wednesday sent a message of condolence and sympathy to the emir of Kuwait, Sheikh Meshal Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, following a fire that killed and injured dozens of people in the country.

The king wrote: “We learned of the news of the outbreak of a fire in the Mangaf region, and the deaths and injuries that resulted from it, and we send to Your Highness, to the families of the deceased, and to the brotherly people of the State of Kuwait, our warmest and most sincere condolences.”

He also wished those injured a speedy recovery, the Saudi Press Agency reported.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman sent similar messages of condolence to the emir and Crown Prince Sheikh Sabah Khaled Al-Hamad Al-Mubarak Al-Sabah.

Forty-nine people were killed when the fire ripped through a building housing nearly 200 foreign workers on Wednesday, the Kuwaiti government said. The blaze, which broke out in the six-story building south of Kuwait City at around dawn, left dozens injured, the health ministry added.

(With AFP)


Interior ministers of Libya and Tunisia agree reopening of major border crossing

Updated 7 min 18 sec ago
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Interior ministers of Libya and Tunisia agree reopening of major border crossing

  • The GNU, which controls Tripoli and northwestern parts of Libya, is recognized internationally but not by the country’s eastern-based parliament

TRIPOLI: Interior ministers from Libya and Tunisia said on Wednesday they had agreed to partially reopen the border crossing at Ras Jdir on Thursday morning, and to fully reopen it on June 20 after more than three months of closure.
Libyan interior minister in Government of National Unity (GNU) in Tripoli, Emad Trabulsi, said in a video statement with his Tunisian counterpart, Khaled Nouri, that the border crossing would be reopened “for the interest of the countries without harming any party.”
In mid-March, the Libyan interior ministry said it closed the border crossing due to armed clashes after the border was attacked by “outlaws.”
Ras Ijdir is the major border crossing between the two countries in Libya’s western region, where Libyans often go to Tunisia for medical treatment and trucks with goods coming in the opposite direction.
Libya has had little peace since a 2011 uprising and is split between eastern and western factions, with rival administrations governing each area.
The GNU, which controls Tripoli and northwestern parts of Libya, is recognized internationally but not by the country’s eastern-based parliament.
“The reopening will be tomorrow for humanitarian cases, special cases that have permits from the Tunisian and Algerian interior ministry, and medical cases,” said Trabulsi.
Trabulsi added that he would meet Nouri on June 20 at the border crossing “to hold a meeting and fully reopen it to all travelers.”
For his part, Nouri said they had supported the crossing with everything necessary “in order to facilitate movement and not disrupt travelers from both sides.”