Middle Eastern Promise6th April 2006
The Middle East is the most neglected health arena in the world today says the Lancet in its editorial. This is no surprise given its constant media portrayal as a centre of violence and terror. It is understandably easy to be gloomy, says The Lancet, but there is a much more positive side to the region which should not be forgotten.
Much of the credit for early medical discoveries is owed to physicians from the Middle East in the first millennium. Avicenna was the author of The Canon, the 10th Century textbook hailed as the “medical bible” and the first to discover the contagious nature of pulmonary tuberculosis. The Persian born Al-Razi advocated an ethical framework for medical practice, and is also credited with the first accurate account of smallpox. The Damascan born Ibn Al-Nafis was the pioneer of scientific peer review, and the first to describe the pulmonary circulation.
These achievements should be a reminder of the intelligence and innovation originating from health professionals in the Middle East. Unfortunately, the status of health and medicine in the region today is often compromised by political unrest and compounded by public-health, infection-control, and educational challenges, goes on the Lancet. "The three deficits of the Arab worldâ€?: knowledge, women's empowerment, and freedom are highlighted by a UN Report. These problems, exacerbated by the ongoing conflict show that 'a radical change in local and international attitudes towards health in the Middle East is long overdue'.
Many efforts are already underway. The first national gender mainstreaming effort in the Arab region was launched on March 8. Also this month, WHO announced that Egypt is now “polio-free”. The UN Programme of Assistance to the Palestinian People (PAPP) now claims that a health education programme for the improvement of personal hygiene and health awareness has been established for children in schools throughout the Palestinian territories, and more than 100 health clinics in the area have been established or renovated since 1980. Kuwait has shown enormous progress towards the Millennium Development Goals, and has reduced the rate of under-five child mortality from 13 per thousand in 1993 to 9Â·9 per thousand in 2003.
For true success, however, these achievements from oil-rich countries such as Kuwait, must also be replicated in their less wealthy neighbours. Successful international collaborations are also emerging between countries in the Middle East and the west, but 'a more comprehensive and ambitious approach is needed to scale up improvements in the health and wellbeing of all populations in the Middle East' concludes the Lancet.
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