Syria’s forgotten health crisis needs healing: WHO regional chief

Syria's shattered healthcare system has been forgotten by the world at large, a top WHO official said, urging new, creative thinking to halt the exodus of medical staff abroad. (AFP/File)
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Updated 08 June 2024
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Syria’s forgotten health crisis needs healing: WHO regional chief

  • Hanan Balkhy, WHO’s Eastern Mediterranean regional director, said almost half the health workforce had fled the country
  • Balkhy said Syria was facing “multi, multi-layered crises,” with 13 years of civil war, sanctions and last year’s major earthquake compounded by a complex geopolitical situation

GENEVA: Syria’s shattered health care system has been forgotten by the world at large, a top WHO official said, urging new, creative thinking to halt the exodus of medical staff abroad.
Hanan Balkhy, the World Health Organization’s Eastern Mediterranean regional director, said young doctors needed to be offered better prospects than practicing fourth-century medicine in dire conditions.
Balkhy, who took office in February, visited Syria from May 11-16, describing the situation on her return as “catastrophic,” with a “staggering” number of people in need and alarming rates of child malnutrition.
She said almost half the health workforce had fled the country.
Balkhy said Syria was facing “multi, multi-layered crises,” with 13 years of civil war, sanctions and last year’s major earthquake compounded by a complex geopolitical situation.
Only 65 percent of hospitals and 62 percent of primary health care centers are fully operational, and they have severe shortages of medicines and equipment.
“We need to think out of the box when it comes to maintaining the health workforce, bringing in younger people, keeping them engaged so that we still have people signing up,” Balkhy told AFP.
Health care workers were facing “very, very low” wages, if they can get a salary.
And if surgeons don’t have an operating room, anaesthetics, professional nurses and sterilization units, “then what’s the use of having a surgeon?,” she argued.
“Then you have to have medications. If you’re not producing your own medications and you could not import your medications, the doctor is paralyzed, in a way.
“So, either you have to accept to practice medicine in the fourth century, where you cauterise people and send them on their merry way, or we try to figure out creative ways.”
Balkhy said such solutions needed to make health professionals more content to stay in Syria or to return to the country, which she said many would “willingly” do, “if they were given some kind of support.”
“They’re learning German in medical school on the side so that they can be ready to jump, and that’s scary for the region,” the Saudi doctor lamented.
She proposed getting young physicians engaged on research projects with a pathway to publishing, so they can “feel that they’re doing something worthwhile” — and making sure that they “at least have the equipment” for surgical operations.
And because doctors cannot travel to conferences to present papers, they need access to virtual platforms to stay in touch with the international health community, she said.
As for medication, Balkhy suggested ramping up pooled procurement and supporting local manufacturing of basic products such as painkillers, antibiotics, and antihypertensives for the “silent killer” — high blood pressure.
Balkhy, who was in Geneva this week for the WHO’s executive board meeting, said the intermittent electricity in Syria had broader knock-on health effects than people might realize.
She said Syria was witnessing a disproportionately high number of burn injuries because people were burning anything — “tires, plastic, fabric” — to cook food and warm their homes, causing domestic fires and respiratory injuries, while regular power cuts were sparking domestic appliances.
“Civilians, children: they’re getting the brunt of it in ways you could never imagine,” said Balkhy.
She urged donor countries to dissociate politics from health and renew their interest in humanitarian funding for Syria.
“I’m a paediatrician by training, so prevention is my game,” she said.
“When you dig deep into the root causes of the harm... much of it is preventable.”


Emirati market opens in Qingdao to celebrate 40 years of UAE-China relations

Updated 6 sec ago
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Emirati market opens in Qingdao to celebrate 40 years of UAE-China relations

  • Market includes pavilions selling dates, traditional handicrafts, and popular Emirati cuisine

DUBAI: The UAE opened an Emirati market in Qingdao on Saturday as part of the UAE-China Friendship Festival, which ends Sunday.

The festival marks 40 years of diplomatic relations between the two nations, showcasing a diverse array of Emirati products and arts to the Chinese public, the Emirates News Agency (WAM) reported.

The market includes pavilions selling dates, traditional handicrafts, and popular Emirati cuisine. There is also an exhibition chronicling the development of relations between the UAE and China.

The festival also features a “comprehensive cultural program” that includes performances of traditional arts “celebrating the UAE's national identity,” as well as workshops.

This event is part of a broader series of activities in both countries aimed at “enhancing mutual understanding and fostering new opportunities for cooperation across various sectors,” according to WAM.
 


UAE, GCC welcome ICJ ruling on Israeli settlements in Palestine

Updated 20 July 2024
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UAE, GCC welcome ICJ ruling on Israeli settlements in Palestine

  • ICJ had reinforced the Palestinian people’s legitimate rights under international law, Albudaiwi says

DUBAI: The UAE and the Gulf Cooperation Council have welcomed a ruling by the UN’s top court that Israeli settlements on Palestinian territory break international law.

The International Court of Justice issued the judgment, which is non-binding, on Friday.

The court ruled that “the transfer by Israel of settlers to the West Bank and Jerusalem as well as Israel’s maintenance of their presence, is contrary to article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention.”

The UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the country rejected all measures aimed at altering the historical and legal status of occupied Palestine.

The ministry condemned practices that contravene international resolutions, warning that such actions “threaten further escalation and instability in the region, and hinder efforts to achieve peace and stability.” It also emphasized the importance of supporting initiatives to advance the peace process in the Middle East as well as bringing an end to “Israel’s illegal practices that undermine an independent Palestinian state.”

GCC Secretary-General Jassem Mohamed Albudaiwi said that the ICJ had reinforced the Palestinian people’s legitimate rights under international law and UN resolutions to reclaim territories occupied by Israel. He asserted that the settlement activities and geographic changes imposed by Israeli forces are “illegitimate and lack regional or international recognition.”

Albudaiwi reiterated that the Occupied Territories remain “the inherent right of the Palestinian people” and reaffirmed the GCC’s steadfast support for the Palestinian cause, advocating for the establishment of an independent Palestinian state within the borders of June 4, 1967, with East Jerusalem as its capital.

The ICJ’s ruling comes against the backdrop of Israel’s devastating bombardment on Gaza, following the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas on Israeli settlements adjacent to the Palestinian enclave.

Israel captured the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem in 1967, but Palestinians consider those areas to be an integral part of any future independent state.

The ruling was also welcomed by Saudi Arabia and the Muslim World League.


 


Moroccan ex-minister hit with five-year jail sentence

Updated 20 July 2024
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Moroccan ex-minister hit with five-year jail sentence

  • The charges relate to funds the Moroccan Liberal Party (PML) received in a 2015 electoral campaign
  • Ziane, who was human rights minister between 1995 and 1996, has been in detention since November 2022

RABAT: Moroccan opposition figure and former minister Mohamed Ziane has been sentenced to five years in prison while serving a three-year term in another case, his lawyer said on Saturday.
The former Rabat bar association president was convicted on charges of “embezzlement and squandering of public funds,” the lawyer Ali Reda Ziane, who is also his son, told AFP.
The charges relate to funds the Moroccan Liberal Party (PML) — of which Mohamed Ziane was founder and chief — received in a 2015 electoral campaign.
“This is a form of life sentence for an 81-year-old man while legally nothing has been proven,” said the lawyer, who plans to appeal the ruling.
Ziane, who was human rights minister between 1995 and 1996, has been in detention since November 2022, after being sentenced the three years on appeal.
The opposition figure had become known in recent years for statements criticizing the authorities in Morocco, particularly the intelligence services.
He said he was being judged “because of his opinions.”
The proceedings follow an interior ministry complaint on seven counts, among them contempt of public officials and justice, insults against a constituted body, defamation, adultery and sexual harassment.
In the same case, the financial crimes chamber of the Rabat appeals court sentenced the PML treasurer and a party administrative employee to five years in prison and one year in prison plus a one-year suspended sentence, respectively.


Gaza hospital says newborn saved from dead mother’s womb

Updated 20 July 2024
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Gaza hospital says newborn saved from dead mother’s womb

  • Doctors were unable to save the mother, but performed an ultrasound that detected the baby’s heartbeat
  • They quickly staged an emergency cesarean section “and extracted the fetus”

GAZA: A Gaza hospital said Saturday it saved a baby boy from his mother’s womb after she died from wounds sustained in an Israeli strike.
Ola Adnan Harb Al-Kurd, who was nine months pregnant, barely survived a punishing night of missile strikes that rescue services across the Hamas-run territory said killed more than 24 people, including six members of the same family.
But by the time Kurd reached Al-Awda Hospital, she was “almost dead,” according to surgeon Akram Hussein.
Doctors were unable to save the mother, but performed an ultrasound that detected the baby’s heartbeat.
They quickly staged an emergency cesarean section “and extracted the fetus,” the surgeon told AFP.
The newborn was initially in critical condition, but after receiving oxygen and medical attention was stabilized, said Raed Al-Saudi, head of the hospital’s obstetrics and gynaecology department.
He was placed in an incubator and transferred to Al-Aqsa Hospital in Deir el-Balah.
Kurd was among three women and a child killed by an Israeli missile fired on the Nuseirat refugee camp in central Gaza, according to a medical official at Al-Awda Hospital. Her husband was also wounded in the strike on the family home.
Israel has not confirmed individual strikes, but a military statement said troops were “conducting targeted raids on terrorist infrastructure sites” in central Gaza.
Israel has stepped up its offensive in several parts of the territory in line with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s order to increase pressure on Hamas following the Palestinian militants’ attacks on southern Israel on October 7.
One man was killed in a drone hit while riding a bicycle on a street near the southern city of Khan Yunis, the Palestinian Red Crescent said.
Air strikes on two homes in Gaza City in the north each left six dead, according to the civil defense agency and paramedics.
Israel’s military statement said “troops eliminated a number of terrorists in several different encounters” and had launched an operation on the Tal Al-Sultan refugee camp near the southern city of Rafah.
The war in Gaza has made childbirth increasingly perilous, with pregnant women facing not only near-daily strikes that hamper access to health facilities, but also widespread food insecurity, degrading sanitary conditions and water scarcity.
The few hospitals that are still working have been stretched to breaking point, according to humanitarian groups.
Pre-term deliveries and maternal complications, including eclampsia, haemorrhage and sepsis, have been rising, Doctors Without Borders said this week.


Australia calls for ‘concrete steps’ on Israeli settler violence after ICJ apartheid ruling

Updated 20 July 2024
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Australia calls for ‘concrete steps’ on Israeli settler violence after ICJ apartheid ruling

  • FM Penny Wong says visas will be denied to settlers, reiterates need for two-state solution
  • International Court of Justice calls for end to occupation, reparations for ‘internationally wrongful acts’

 

LONDON: Australia has called on Israel to do more to stop violence by settlers in the Occupied Territories after the International Court of Justice ruled that Israel is responsible for overseeing an apartheid system.

Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong said Israel needs to take “concrete steps” to end “extremist settler activity,” adding in a statement published on X that Canberra considers the occupation a “significant obstacle” to peace in the region.

“We respect the independence of the court and its critical role in upholding international law and the rules-based order,” Wong’s statement read.

“We are carefully considering the detail of the ICJ opinion to fully understand the conclusions reached.”

She said Australia will deny travel visas into the country to anyone identified as a settler. “A just and enduring peace will require the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people to self-determination to be realised,” she added.

“We want to see concrete steps taken by Israel to cease the expansion of settlements and to respond to extremist settler activity.”

In its non-bonding advisory opinion, the ICJ said Israel should end the occupation “as rapidly as possible” and take steps to fund reparations for “internationally wrongful acts.”

Its publication follows a request in 2022 by the UN General Assembly to assess legal consequences of Israeli policy in the Occupied Territories.

Tirana Hassan, executive director of Human Rights Watch, said in a statement: “In a historic ruling the International Court of Justice has found multiple and serious international law violations by Israel towards Palestinians in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including, for the first time, finding Israel responsible for apartheid. 

“The court has placed responsibility with all states and the United Nations to end these violations of international law.

“The ruling should be yet another wake up call for the United States to end its egregious policy of defending Israel’s oppression of Palestinians and prompt a thorough reassessment in other countries as well.”