As world leaders gather to try and broker a ceasefire in Syria and stem the tide of refugees forced to flee their homes and find shelter in Europe and elsewhere, it’s up to all of us to reflect on how we, too, can contribute to aiding in the terrible humanitarian crisis currently sweeping the Middle East. And while there are many ways to help and many worthy of assistance, here’s a bit of wisdom on which I think we can all agree: let’s help the children first.
Even before this crisis began, the World Health Organization reported that more than 26,000 mothers and 845,000 children under five years of age were dying across the Middle East each year. Those numbers have grown exponentially as violence and instability spreads to more corners of the region. Such high numbers call for both immediate relief and systemic long-term care.
First, we should focus on building facilities capable of giving our youngest patients the excellent care they deserve. Such an undertaking can only be successful if governments and private businesses team up to combine their resources and expertise to oversee a rapid growth in the quality and the volume of care provided locally. This is already happening in the United Arab Emirates, where the government recently announced a major focus not only on healthcare but also on prevention, extensively expanding and upgrading its healthcare systems to match the most exacting international standards. Other nations in the region, like Saudi Arabia, are following suit.
This is an excellent start, but it means little without capable doctors, and the region, sadly, suffers from an acute shortage of trained physicians. This is why health systems the region over must step up to the challenge and improve by learning from the best. The world-renowned Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, for example, has been receiving patients from the United Arab Emirates since the 1990s; late last year, CHOP signed an agreement with my own health group, VPS Healthcare, and committed not only to sending its doctors to the UAE to fill in the gaps for certain pediatric specialties, but also to train local doctors so that they may pick up the additional education and expertise necessary to become world-class providers themselves.
Unless we continue and foster such partnerships, continue to invest in infrastructure, and continue to train new generations of doctors across the Middle East, we have no hope of ever extending a helping and healing hand to the young patients who need us most.