Public Health in the Middle East and North Africa

Published by World Bank Institute
Jan. 1, 2004

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In September 2000, leaders of the international community embraced eight Millennium Develop- ment Goals as the basis for a new global development agenda at the turn of the twenty-first century. Three of the goals reflect the importance of health for sustainable human development, calling for actions to reduce child mortality, improve maternal health, and combat HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases.

These health issues are of vital importance in the broad region comprising the Middle East, North Africa, and the Eastern Mediterranean (MENA/EM). But they are by no means the only ones. An ongoing epidemiological transition in the region is changing patterns of mortality and morbidity, so that chronic and noncommunicable diseases and injuries now account for a grow- ing share of the overall burden of ill health. These emerging health problems must be dealt with, even as the region’s countries strive to complete the unfinished agenda of protecting mothers and children and fighting communicable diseases.

This dual health challenge was the central theme of a regional conference held in Beirut, Leba- non, from June 16 to 21, 2002, entitled “Meeting the Public Health Challenges of the 21st Century in the MENA/EM Region.” The first of its kind in the region, the conference was organized by the World Bank and the World Health Organization (through its Geneva headquarters and East- ern Mediterranean Regional Office), in collaboration with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institutes of Health, the World Bank Institute, and the American University of Beirut. It was attended by 119 delegates and organizational representatives from 22 countries of the region: Afghanistan, Algeria, Arab Republic of Egypt, Bahrain, Cyprus, Djibouti, Iraq, Islamic Republic of Iran, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Malta, Morocco, Oman, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syrian Arab Republic, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, and Republic of Yemen. Representatives of international organizations such as the European Union, GTZ, Ford Foundation, and Saudi Fund for Development also participated.

Conferees discussed intersectoral strategies to enhance disease prevention and health promo- tion in areas ranging from HIV/AIDS to maternal and child health to road safety. Emphasis was placed on strengthening public health functions and infrastructures as part of health sector re- form programs underway in many countries of the region. Case studies, lessons learned, and experiences from various countries were presented to encourage cross-fertilization of ideas and knowledge transfer. Those attending included national ministers of health, planning, and finance, who considered ways to engage their ministries and others in intersectoral action on public health. The involvement of multiple entities in organizing the conference was also an attempt to improve cooperation and coordination among international development agencies in responding to the public health needs of the MENA/EM region.

Seven of the papers presented at the Beirut conference, highlighting some of the key issues discussed, have been edited for inclusion in this volume. They are preceded by an overview drawing on a broader range of presentations at the conference. By disseminating the conference

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