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Syria, which used chemical weapons on children, wins WHO board seat

Dozens of medical workers in rebel-controlled northwest Syria are protesting the decision to give President Bashar Assad’s government a seat on the executive board of the World Health Organization. They say Assad is responsible for the bombing of hospitals and clinics across the war-torn country.

The decision to give Syria a seat comes a decade after the country’s devastating civil war broke out that left untold numbers of civilians – including many healthcare workers – dead and injured.

Syria’s selection in a little-noticed session on Saturday of the WHO annual meeting – which brings together all member states of the United Nations health agency – sparked outrage in Idlib province , held by the opposition.

Rifaat Farhat, a senior health official in Idlib, says the decision “contradicts all international and humanitarian laws.”

Destruction at the entrance to a hospital in the village of Kafr Nabl, in the south of the Syrian province of Idlib, held by the jihadists, on May 5, 2019, was reportedly struck by Russian airstrikes. (OMAR HAJ KADOUR / AFP)

Syria was among 12 WHO Member States that were chosen to nominate new members to the 34-member board in an Assembly vote that faced no debate or opposition .

Syria will occupy the seat of the next session of the executive council, which begins on Wednesday.

The revelation was highlighted by advocacy group UN Watch, which is keeping an eye out for perceived hypocrisies and other shortcomings of the global body and its affiliates like the WHO.

The WHO Council is largely a technical group whose role is to execute decisions and advise the assembly, which is made up of all WHO Member States and has been meeting since May 24.

The war in Syria has claimed half a million lives and driven millions of people out of the country since the conflict erupted in 2011. Investigators working for the UN’s main human rights body and International defense groups have reported that the Assad government and its allies – like Russia and Iran – have been responsible for destroying health facilities amid years of fighting. The regime is also accused of using chemical weapons on civilians, including children.

Hundreds of medical facilities have been bombed, mainly in government airstrikes; half of hospitals and health centers function only partially or not at all, while 70% of medical staff have fled the country.

A WHO emergency appeal for Syria launched in March said that at least 12.4 million people were in need of assistance in Syria, and that “the infrastructure of essential health services such as hospitals and health care centers are in poor condition ”.

At the end of December, he said, only half of the public hospitals assessed in the country were fully operational. Almost half of Syrian health workers have left the country.


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About Douglas Mackenzie

Douglas Mackenzie

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