MAP attends 72nd World Health Assembly in Geneva

In May, Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP) attended the 72nd World Health Assembly (WHA) in Geneva to discuss with others the promotion and protection of Palestinian health and healthcare. The WHA is the annual gathering of the World Health Organisation (WHO) along with representatives of states and health organisations.

On 22 May, MAP’s Director of Advocacy and Campaigns, Neil Sammonds, joined a strong panel at a side-meeting entitled "The health and dignity of Palestinians and Palestinian refugees at stake”. The other speakers were:

  • Dr Akihiro Seita, Director of Health at the UNRWA (the main UN agency for Palestinian refugees) and WHO Special Representative
  • Dr Mai Al-Kaila, Minister of Health, Palestine
  • Dr Gerald Rockenschaub, Head of Office for the WHO in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt)
  • Dr Ghada Al-Jadba, Chief of Field Health Programme, Gaza, UNRWA
  • Dr Mahmoud Matar, Senior Orthopedic Surgeon in Al-Shifa Hospital, Gaza (Dr Matar had attended the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva in person in March, accompanied by MAP; this time he joined remotely from Gaza)
  • Sabreen Al-Najjar (also remotely), a Field Health Worker and mother of Razan, a volunteer paramedic who was shot dead during protests in Gaza in 2018
  • Hiba Ghandour, Liaison Officer for Human Rights and Peace issues, International Federation of Medical Students’ Associations (IFMSA)
  • (Dr Richard Horton of The Lancet was unable to attend)

There were also two special guest speakers, Princess Dina Mired from Jordan and Dr Ahmed al-Mandhari, WHO Regional Director for the Eastern Mediterranean.

The presentations were informative and moving. Recurrent themes included the multiple, politically-driven impediments to improvements in Palestinians’ health and healthcare, the importance of UNRWA and its services in the face of hostility from the US Trump Administration in particular, and repeated and widespread attacks on Palestinian health workers and services by Israeli forces.

Dr Gerald Rockenschaub of the WHO spoke of the “almost insurmountable crises” that Gaza and the health sector there face, day after day and year after year. Dr Ghada al-Jadba praised the many “miracles” that the sector is achieving, but that “we are fed up with being heroes. We just want to be normal.” Sabreen Al-Najjar spoke of the deep pain at losing her daughter a year ago: “I die 100 times every day because of her killing” she said, also demanding that the perpetrators must be held accountable for unlawful attacks on protestors and health workers.

Neil highlighted the deep and widespread physical and mental harm endured by Palestinians living under occupation and/or as refugees. Identifying patterns and people known personally and organisationally to MAP, he spoke of women with cancer denied access to treatment, sick children with life-threatening conditions separated from their families, health workers killed and injured with impunity. 

Despite the world’s foremost independent expert on human rights in the oPt ringing alarm bells a year ago by stating that Israel was in “profound breach” of its international obligations with regards Palestinians’ right to health, Neil showed how the main components of the right to health – namely access to health, protection and development of healthcare, and respect for mental health – continue to be undermined.

Everyone was united in praising health workers across the oPt as well as to Palestinians in wider exile for their tremendous work under such challenging circumstances, and to UNRWA for having survived the drastic cut in funding from the US.