WHO restores permanent international presence in Iraq
17 July 2008 | Baghdad/Geneva - Iraq will have greater support to respond to humanitarian crises and reform its health-care system with the return, after five years, of permanently-based international WHO staff to the country.
Foreign WHO staff based in Iraq were withdrawn after the August 2003 terrorist attack on the UN headquarters in Baghdad. But the recently improved security situation in the country, plus the UN support of Iraq's International Compact initiative, led WHO to re-establish its permanent international presence last month.
"WHO is here to serve Iraq," said WHO Country Representative Dr Naeema Al-Gasseer. "Our day-to-day dealings with the government and other health partners will be vastly improved by having a permanent international presence here."
Since the 2003 withdrawal, Iraqi WHO personnel kept working throughout the country, helping national and local authorities deliver vital public health programmes. These included immunizations, communicable disease monitoring and noncommunicable disease prevention and control. Key public health institutions have been rehabilitated and thousands of Ministry of Health staff trained.
But international teams continued conducting missions into Iraq, using the WHO Country Office in neighbouring Jordan as a hub. These took place in response to public health emergencies, such as controlling avian influenza and cholera outbreaks, and advising on technical issues and health system reform. WHO Headquarters in Geneva and its Eastern Mediterranean Regional Office have been supporting WHO's Iraq operations.
Now the basing of international WHO experts to Iraq will accelerate health sector reform.
"WHO will intensify its recovery and relief assistance to Iraq and help its people obtain the healthcare they deserve," said Dr Eric Laroche, Assistant Director-General for WHO's Health Action in Crises Cluster. "This will be done in close collaboration with the Iraqi public, private and civil society stakeholders."
Iraq's health priorities have regularly changed. For the past four years, WHO's main focus has been on controlling public health threats, life-saving measures and responding to the emergency and humanitarian needs. Supporting reconstruction efforts and policy development were other key objectives.
But the emboldened international commitment to rebuilding Iraqi systems, centred around the Compact effort, has placed extra emphasis on health policy reform. The Compact was launched in 2007 to help Iraq's reconstruction and return to the international fold.
"It is like a pendulum," said Dr Al-Gasseer. "We are still watching carefully for emergencies and humanitarian assistance, while at the same time focussing on assisting the government in policy development and investing in the recent security improvements."
Iraq's new health strategy and policies will be built on primary health care principles. WHO is providing legislative and policy guidance, advising on health system components, and identifying the roles of health-care providers.
Health policy development is essential for helping Iraq meet health-related Millennium Development Goals. WHO is supporting the Government to improve public health, reduce the burden of chronic disease, protect vulnerable groups, particularly women, children and the poor, guarantee basic health care in emergencies and provide psychosocial support.
WHO is also bringing financing expertise, and options of public-private partnerships and service provision.
Resources for WHO's operations in Iraq are drastically under-funded. In February 2008, WHO coordinated the health components of an interagency Consolidated Appeals Process (CAP) for Iraq for US$ 35 million (US$ 19 million for WHO needs). To date no contributions have been made. In September 2007, WHO and other UN partners issued a Health Sector Appeal" for US$ 85 million to cover the needs of Iraqis in neighboring countries, of which WHO requested $18million. To date, 41% (US$ 7.4m) has been provided.
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