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WHO Director-General's remarks at the press conference on Lebanon and Afghanistan

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Good morning, good afternoon and good evening.

Yesterday, I returned to Geneva after a trip to Lebanon and Afghanistan with Dr Ahmed Al-Mandhari, WHO’s Regional Director for the Eastern Mediterranean.

Our objective in both countries was to see for ourselves the health challenges communities are facing, and to engage with senior political leaders to assess how best WHO can support health systems that are under severe strain.

In Lebanon, we had the opportunity to meet with the President, the Prime Minister, the President of the Parliament, the Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Minister of Health.

We discussed how best WHO can support Lebanon, and the importance of putting public health at the centre of national political dialogue and development.

I must say I am deeply concerned by the impact of the current crisis on the health and well-being of Lebanon’s people, and the risks we face of losing the health gains that Lebanon had made over the last decades.

The deadly combination of the political and financial crisis, last year’s explosion at Beirut port, and the COVID-19 pandemic are having devastating consequences for the health of Lebanon’s people.

There is a serious shortage of supplies, medical equipment, fuel and electricity.

2000 medical doctors and 1500 registered nurses have left the country, and 600 private pharmacies have closed.

WHO continues to work to support the health system and the delivery of essential services and supplies.

For example, last year’s explosion at Beirut port completely destroyed a warehouse used to store essential medicines. With the support of the European Union, Kuwait and Japan, WHO has managed not only to rehabilitate the warehouse, but also to increase its capacity by five times.

In Afghanistan, we met with senior members of the Taliban leadership, including the interim Prime Minister.

I believe that engaging the Taliban leadership is essential if we are to support the people of Afghanistan.

Over the past 20 years, significant health gains have been made in Afghanistan, in reducing maternal and child mortality, moving towards polio eradication, and more.

Those gains are now at severe risk, with the country’s health system on the brink of collapse.

There has been a surge in cases of measles and diarrhea; almost 50% of children are at risk of malnutrition; a resurgence of polio is a major risk; and 2.1 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine remain unused.

Unless urgent action is taken, Afghanistan faces an imminent humanitarian catastrophe.

Health workers are leaving, creating a brain drain that will have consequences for years to come.

We visited a hospital where we met some nurses who have stayed. My heart broke when they told me they have not been paid in three months, but they said they would continue to serve their patients.

Education is essential for protecting and promoting health in all countries, both in terms of health literacy, and for building the health workforce.

The Taliban leadership has announced that primary schools are open for boys and girls, and that they are preparing to open high schools to girls. In our discussions, we offered to support that process, and speed it up, in partnership with other UN agencies.

The focus of our efforts now is to support and sustain the Sehatmandi project, which is the backbone of Afghanistan’s health system, providing care for millions of people through 2300 health facilities, including in remote areas.

But because of a funding pause by major donors, only 17% of these facilities are fully functional, and two-thirds have stock-outs of essential medicines.

As a stop-gap measure, the United Nations Central Emergency Response Fund and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria are financing WHO and our partners to ensure continuity of health services for the next three months. But this is simply not enough.

WHO is calling on international donors to rapidly re-commit to finance Sehatmandi, as they have done for almost two decades.

We simply cannot abruptly halt support for life-saving health services for millions of Afghans at a time when they are most vulnerable.

We also need a reliable supply chain to be established urgently.

WHO was the first agency to airlift essential medicines and supplies into Afghanistan, and we have now shipped more than 170 metric tons of medical supplies. But we need the support of the international community to establish a regular and reliable way of getting supplies in.

And I would like to use this opportunity to thank Qatar for its support in the transportation of supplies, and for arranging our travel to Afghanistan.

What we saw in Lebanon and Afghanistan reminded me of why the world needs WHO, and of the incredible job our people are doing in incredibly difficult circumstances.

As I said, I was joined on my trip by Dr Ahmed Al-Mandhari, WHO’s Regional Director for the Eastern Mediterranean, and I’m very pleased that he could join us for today’s briefing.

My brother Ahmed, welcome, and you have the floor.


Thank you, Ahmed, and thank you for everything that you and your staff are doing to protect and promote the health of the people of Lebanon and Afghanistan at this critical time.

I would now like to introduce our WHO Representative for Lebanon, Dr Iman Shankiti. Dr Shankiti, you have the floor.


Thank you so much, Iman. And now I would like to introduce Dr Luo Dapeng, WHO Representative in Afghanistan. Dr Luo, you have the floor.


Thank you, Dr Luo. Margaret, back to you.