WHO Regional Director: Syria's neglected health problem requires treatment

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A senior WHO official stated that the world has forgotten about Syria's broken healthcare system and called for innovative solutions to stop the country's medical personnel from leaving.

The director of WHO's Eastern Mediterranean area, Hanan Balkhy, stated that better opportunities for aspiring physicians were required rather than forcing them to practice medicine in the squalid conditions of the fourth century.

After visiting Syria from May 11–16, Balkhy—who assumed office in February—described the situation as "catastrophic," with a "staggering" number of people in need and concerning rates of child malnutrition.

Nearly half of the health workforce, she said, had left the nation.
According to Balkhy, Syria is dealing with "multi, multi-layered crises," including a complex geopolitical scenario, sanctions, and a huge earthquake that occurred last year on top of 13 years of civil conflict.

There is a major lack of medications and equipment in primary health care centers (62%), and only 65% of hospitals are completely operational.

In order to retain individuals joining up, Balkhy told AFP, "we need to think outside the box when it comes to maintaining the health workforce, bringing in younger people, and keeping them engaged."
If they are paid at all, healthcare workers are paid "very, very low" pay.

Furthermore, she contended, "What's the use of having a surgeon if they don't have an operating room, anesthetics, professional nurses, and sterilization units?"

"After that, you need to take medicine. In a sense, a doctor is paralyzed if they are unable to import their meds and are not manufacturing their own.

"Therefore, we try to find innovative ways, or you have to accept to practice medicine in the fourth century, where you cauterize people and send them on their merry way."

According to Balkhy, these kinds of solutions are necessary to increase the satisfaction of medical professionals to remain in Syria or return there; many of them would do so "willingly," "if they were given some kind of support," she stated.
The Saudi physician bemoaned, "They're learning German in medical school on the side so they can be ready to jump, and that's scary for the region."

In order to provide aspiring medical professionals a sense of accomplishment, she suggested involving them in research projects that have the potential for publication. Additionally, she suggested ensuring that aspiring physicians had access to surgical instruments.

Additionally, she stated that doctors want access to virtual platforms in order to remain in contact with the global health community because they are unable to travel to conferences in order to deliver papers.
When it comes to medicine, Balkhy recommended stepping up pooled procurement and encouraging local production of necessities like painkillers, antibiotics, and antihypertensives—which treat high blood pressure, the "silent killer."

Balkhy, who attended the WHO executive board meeting this week in Geneva, claimed that people might not be aware of the wider health impacts of Syria's sporadic energy.

According to her, there is an abnormally high rate of burn injuries in Syria as a result of people burning "tires, plastic, and fabric" to cook food and heat their houses. This leads to house fires and respiratory problems, and frequent power outages ignite household appliances.

According to Balkhy, "Civilians and children are bearing the brunt of it in ways you could never imagine."
She pleaded on donor nations to separate politics from health and show fresh enthusiasm in providing humanitarian aid to Syria.
"Prevention is my game because I'm a pediatrician by training," she remarked.

"Much of the harm can be avoided if you look closely at its underlying causes.”

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