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WHO scales up support to Islamic Republic of Iran, in partnership with UNHCR to provide health services to Afghan refugees, host communities in Kerman province

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27 October 2021, Kerman, Islamic Republic of Iran – The World Health Organization plans to boost support to the Islamic Republic of Iran in delivering health care services to the Afghan community, as well as the host population in the country, orchestrated in collaboration with UNHCR and other local partners and in light of the recent developments in neighbouring Afghanistan which has spurred a new influx of refugees into the country.

The decision was announced by WHO Representative to the Islamic Republic of Iran Dr Syed Jaffar Hussain who visited the southern Kerman province in close proximity to the Iran-Afghanistan border on Wednesday, 27 October, at the head of a WHO delegation of technical expert and met with local and provincial authorities of Kerman University of Medical Sciences.

The visit provided a fresh opportunity to check on health care facilities providing services to refugees in Kerman province, including a vaccination centre and a delivery and maternal services facility dedicated to the foreign population in the area.

The refugee-exclusive vaccination centre in Sharafabad, a densely Afghan-populated district in Kerman, provides COVID-19 immunization services to 400–500 Afghan nationals on a daily basis regardless of their legal status. The visitors get a choice between the Chinese vaccine Sinopharm, and the Indian jab COVAXIN, donated by the Government of India. Refugees under 18-years of age are also inoculated using Sinopharm at this centre. Visitors also get vaccine-related health information in the form of brochures before and after vaccination.

“Post-injection adverse effects following immunization (AEFI) is also observed at this centre to promptly respond to potential adverse effects in those being inoculated,” said Dr Hussain during the visit. “It is a great health resource for Afghan refugees whether they are registered or not registered [for legal residence].”

The delivery services facility located about 25 km outside of the provincial capital, established in a joint collaboration between Kerman University of Medical Sciences and UNHCR supported by the Interior Ministry’s Bureau for Aliens and Foreign Immigrants’ Affairs to respond to the large population of Afghans in the province, is now well-known and trusted among Afghan women.

“The delivery centre for Afghan refugees is well-organized in terms of service provision and delivery, and the staff are dedicated and well-trained, but they require regular training and medical supplies,” said Dr Hussain on the sidelines of the visit, pledging that WHO would support the health ministry in addressing them.

The current Afghan refugee crisis comes on top of millions of Afghan refugees already in neighbouring countries. Islamic Republic of Iran has been hosting Afghan refugees since 1979, and according to UNHCR, there are between 3 and 3.5 million Afghans in the country. Nearly one million are considered to be de facto refugees, about half a million have Iranian visas, and the rest are considered to be undocumented.

On his mission to Kerman, Dr Hussain also met with local and provincial authorities of Kerman University of Medical Sciences, and paid a visit to the Research Institute of Future Studies in Health and the Stem Cells and Regenerative Medicine Comprehensive Centre, both affiliated to the Kerman University of Medical Sciences.

The visit entailed meeting with Dr Ali Akbar Haghdoost, head of the research institute, as well as directors of its 6 research centres; namely, HIV/STI Surveillance Hub operating also as the WHO Collaborating Centre, Health Services Management Centre, Centre for Modelling in Health, Medical Informatics Centre, Disaster Management Centre, and Centre for Social Determinants of Health. These centres provide evidence and information to the Ministry of Health and Medical Education of the Islamic Republic of Iran to support national health policy- and decision-making.

The meeting discussed the ongoing and future research projects at each centre, and the institute’s scientific achievements so far, and areas of collaboration with WHO on 3 levels of country, region, and headquarters.

“We see Islamic Republic of Iran as a centre of knowledge and evidence in the Region, and need to work together to use this evidence in forming health policies,” said Dr Hussain in the meeting. “We look to strenghthen networking between the institute’s WHO Collaborating Centrer in Islamic Republic of Iran and global institutions and using your experience in building capacities for other countries.”

The WHO country office in Islamic Republic of Iran has previously worked in partnership with the Research Institute of Future Studies in Health on AIDS care and its epidemiological studies in key populations.

The Stem Cells and Regenerative Medicine Comprehensive Centre visited by the delegation has successfully treated a number of patients on trial basis using stem cell therapy, including those suffering from osteoporosis, and blindness, and provides educational services to post-graduate students and faculty members.

“This centre looks modest but the work they are doing is very sophisticated and advanced,” said Dr Hussain following the visit. “They need our support in partnerships with private firms to build capacity for production of medicinal products and equipment to be available in the local market.”

He also underlined the need for more collaboration and networking on the national and regional levels, so the work done in the country is brought to attention and experiences are shared beyond the province and vice versa as a 2-way benefit.

“The most important element is that we offer WHO services to improve the networking of collaborating centres with other similar centres in the Region and beyond, and to that end we would like to collaborate to bring our value as a WHO Member State to the country on national and global levels.

The delegation’s visit concluded with a meeting with Dr Hamidreza Rahsidinejad, Chancellor of Kerman University of Medical Sciences, to discuss the visit’s outcomes and way forward in bilateral collaborations.