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Dr. Bernard Kouchner, former foreign minister, SRSG in Kosovo, minister of health and Co-founder of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) and Médecins du Monde,
Dr. Fadlo KHOURI, President of the American University of Beirut
Dr. Walid AMMAR, Director General of the Ministry of Public Health Lebanon
Members of parliament,
Ladies and gentlemen,
I am very happy to be here today for the opening ceremony of this conference on rebuilding Health Post-Conflict.
I think we all welcome this initiative as it intends to create a scientific and operational dialogue in which various actors can cooperate to find suitable answers to the challenge of developing responsive and sustainable health systems in the post-conflict era for the region.
One of these answers can be found in reinforcing the planning capacity and human capital, as well as upgrading the health sector infrastructure. This should remain a permanent priority even before conflicts subside.
Building resilient health systems is a global imperative. Not only is it the best way to ensure that disruptions no longer become disasters, but investing in resilient health systems also yields tremendous benefits in times of peace, such as better routine healthcare and economic productivity.
The EU and its Member States are aiming to support the strengthening of comprehensive health systems in non-EU countries. Since these countries and their governments hold primary responsibility in addressing health challenges, this would require strengthening their capacities to develop, regulate, implement and monitor effective national health policies and strategies. This is why the EU seeks to ensure optimal access to health services for populations in fragile contexts, emergency and/or humanitarian situations and in peace and stabilisation processes.
Talking about post-conflict health today and in this region, I think we all tend to think primarily about Syria, our neighbour less than a one hour's drive from here. Devastating reports and pictures reach us almost every day showing the destruction of health institutions and killings of medical personnel, all of which make us aware of the huge challenges that we face not only today but also once a political solution to the Syrian conflict is found.
Before the start of the Syrian conflict, the EU was playing an active role in the Syrian health sector by providing assistance for reform and capacity-building. With a program of €39 million, we assisted with the development of a national health strategy. This was coupled with a loan from the European Investment Bank (€100 million in 2004) for the construction, equipment and functioning of 18 hospitals across Syria. Unfortunately, the conflict has destroyed the remarkable past achievements both in term of the human capital and the overall infrastructure.
Inside Syria, the EU is continuing to focus on increasing the quality of services and expanding them to reach all those in need. Special attention is attributed to the disability aspect, which has touched almost 1 million people. To do so, in 2016, the EU has allocated almost €20 million for the rehabilitation of the health sector in all Syria, through a joint humanitarian and development programming approach with our humanitarian colleagues (ECHO Syria).
However, looking closer to home, Lebanon has obviously had its own challenges with post-conflict health after the civil war. And now again with the crisis next door and the more than one million Syrian refugees here, the Lebanese health sector – in particular the public health system – has been faced with new challenges. This is why, since the beginning of the Syrian crisis, the EU has been the main donor in the health sector in Lebanon.
EU SUPPORT IN THE HEALTH SECTOR IN LEBANON
Let me be frank: Before the Syrian crisis, the EU was not engaged in the Lebanese health sector. This changed with the Syrian crisis. I think it is fair to say that our cooperation in this sector and with the Ministry of Public Health was spurred by a crisis but ended up being a positive story benefitting a large part of the Lebanese health system. Over the last two years, together, we have achieved great results but most importantly, we believe that we have contributed to improving access to healthcare and proven that we can build trust between the public sector and the citizens in need of good public services.
The EU's support comes as a necessary and urgent response to the tremendous task Lebanon has taken upon itself by welcoming the highest number of refugees per capita in the world. The number of people seeking refuge in Lebanon has by far over-stretched the country's already fragile infrastructures and social services, including in the health sector. The public health sector was already facing major challenges before the Syrian crisis. It is estimated that approximately 28% of Lebanese are vulnerable and need financial support to access minimum levels of healthcare while at least 70% Syrian refugees need some level of humanitarian assistance for healthcare. Therefore our support serves for the benefit of both, Lebanese host communities and refugees.
And our support is visible all over Lebanon. Those who benefit from EU’s support may have visited one of the more than 200 Primary Health Care Centres and public hospitals which have received new equipment, free medicines and routine vaccines for children, as well as affordable consultations and health awareness sessions. Others may have received training, such as doctors, pharmacists, nurses, and health workers. Moreover, the humanitarian office of the EU is supporting access for Syrian refugees to secondary healthcare and covering lifesaving medical and surgical cases. In addition, the EU is supporting the Ministry of Public Health to reinforce and enlarge the Primary Health Care Centres Network.
Since 2014, the EU has implemented projects for a total of €86 million, contributing significantly to the Lebanese authorities' ability to meet basic health needs of Syrian refugees and vulnerable Lebanese.
Let me recall a few figures related to concrete and important results:
- 264 medical equipment items provided to 8 hospitals to reinforce emergency obstetrics and neonatal intensive care units;
- medications for acute diseases provided to 214 Primary Health Care Centres for around 800,000 consultations;
- 3,732,600 vaccine doses provided for immunising around 600,000 children;
- 8 water testing laboratories established to detect waterborne diseases;
- around 4,000 health staff trained;
- And most importantly, the satisfaction of patients about provided public health services seems to have been growing.
Since the beginning of the Syrian crisis, the EU has made health one of the key areas in supporting Lebanon to address the impact that the Syrian crisis had on this sector. And this support will continue in the future: I am happy to announce that just two days ago, the Trust Fund Board of the so-called 'Madad Fund' met in Brussels and approved a package of €62 million for health projects. This is very good news for the sector which has been particularly affected by the crisis and by the lack of adequate financial resources.
In addition to the €62 million on health, on the same occasion the Trust Fund has also approved a package of €20 million in the water, sanitation and hygiene sector. This integrated package health-water-sanitation and hygiene is of particular importance because we strongly believe that interventions to build resilient health systems need to be multi-sectorial, move the emphasis from immediate benefits to establishing sustainable systems. The future EU intervention in Lebanon will continue to be fully in line with two strategic objectives of the Health Response Strategy of the Ministry, which are to increase access to health services for displaced Syrians and vulnerable Lebanese; and strengthen healthcare institutions.
Ladies and gentlemen,
We are fully aware of the extraordinary challenges that Lebanon is currently facing with regard to the health sector. We will continue to stand by the Lebanese people and assist in tackling the challenge of the Syrian crisis. We will also continue to work with Lebanon afterwards to help improve public services for its citizens.
The EU would like to encourage all the relevant stakeholders to continue their efforts in strengthening the resilience of the health sector. This will provide an opportunity to bring together political dialogue, humanitarian assistance and development cooperation in a comprehensive, coherent and effective approach. We wish this to apply not only to the health sector but also to other sectors providing services complementary to the health ones (i.e. protection, education, etc.).
The forum and the discussions which will take place during this two-day conference go in this direction and, once again, I would like to welcome this initiative.
Thank you for your attention