Speech by UNRWA Commissioner-General at non-communicable diseases meeting

20 September 2011

2011 High Level Meeting on Non-Communicable Diseases
UN New York, 20 September 2011

Distinguished Chairman, Delegates, Ladies and Gentlemen:

Why is the UN organization responsible for Palestine refugees speaking at an event on NCDs? UNRWA manages health services for almost 5 million people. We have to address practically all the challenges which this High Level Meeting is discussing, as the evolution of health care, and the history of the Middle East, face such critical transitions.

The challenges posed to UNRWA by non-communicable diseases have become the main threats to the health of Palestine refugees, accounting for over 70 per cent of all deaths. The number of NCD-affected refugees has gone from 85,000 to 200,000 in ten years. Resources have declined. Against this backdrop, let me focus on three concepts. 

First, innovation. UNRWA is poor and must be cost-effective. An example of UNRWA’s reforms is the introduction of the “family health team” approach which brings continuity of treatment and person-centered care to an effective NCD response.

Second, a holistic approach. We are conscious that in helping Palestine refugees have long and healthy lives – one of our key goals –  chances for success advance if we seek, in tandem, to improve their knowledge and skills, promote their enjoyment of human rights, and help them achieve a decent standard of living. 

Third, international cooperation. We are establishing partnerships with medical suppliers and foundations.

But I would be remiss if I did not conclude with another element, which also frames the health challenges in the Palestine refugee situation. The injustice and despair permeating so many Palestinian lives complicate the causes, diagnosis, effects, management and cure of NCDs. 

In Gaza, still under blockade, the dire state of the economy and public services cause water shortages and power outages, and the technology that could bring relief to patients cannot function. In the West Bank, access to medical care is uncertain or unavailable because of movement restrictions. 

After 60 years working with Palestinians, one consideration is still there to challenge us: the frustration and futility of development work in the absence of political solutions for a conflict which will inevitably stifle any form of development.

At a time of heightened attention to the recognition of Palestinian statehood, and as the legitimate quest for Palestinian self-determination is pursued, amidst the many difficulties of international politics, let us not forget that only the fulfillment of protection and entitlements inscribed in international law will allow peace to prevail, and – with peace, and only with peace – will be realized the possibility for Palestinians, as for other victims of protracted conflict, to enjoy long and healthy lives. It is this confluence of security goals - both political and human - which we should all strive to achieve through international cooperation.


Background Information

UNRWA is a United Nations agency established by the General Assembly in 1949 and is mandated to provide assistance and protection to a population of some 5 million registered Palestine refugees. Its mission is to help Palestine refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, West Bank and the Gaza Strip to achieve their full potential in human development, pending a just solution to their plight. UNRWA’s services encompass education, health care, relief and social services, camp infrastructure and improvement, and microfinance.

Financial support to UNRWA has not kept pace with an increased demand for services caused by growing numbers of registered refugees, expanding need, and deepening poverty. As a result, the Agency's General Fund (GF), supporting UNRWA’s core activities and 97 per cent reliant on voluntary contributions, has begun each year with a large projected deficit. Currently the deficit stands at US$ 100 million.

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