In the domain of global health, good intentions are buried. Last week, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus delivered a highly praised speech at the World Health Assembly. He lectured on “the serious health consequences of battle” and concluded, “If we do not pursue peace, we will find war.” Today and every day, we have an option; we make the decisions.
And we must prioritize peace over health now and every day in the future. His group has chosen to exclude over 5 million people from the World Health Organization’s flagship World Health Statistics 2022 “comprehensive” global health assessment.
Despite being a member of WHO’s Eastern Mediterranean Region (EMRO), the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt) is not represented in WHO data. The West Bank and East Jerusalem have 32 million people, whereas Gaza has 22 million. The oPt is only mentioned once, in a single COVID-19 crude death rate figure. On the other hand, the Palestinians have been completely deleted from SDG indicator tables, global health estimates annexes, and even the list of EMRO members. WHO is committing statistical genocide, which is the deliberate destruction of a people to eradicate their existence.
For the past decade, the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) and The Lancet have co-hosted a World Health Assembly side meeting on Palestinian health issues. Both Dr. Mai al-Kaila, Palestinian Minister of Health, and Dr. Ahmed al-Mandhari, Regional Director of EMRO, spoke at the ceremony last week. “Without health, we can accomplish nothing,” Dr. al-Kaila underlined. Rik Peeperkorn is the Director of the WHO’s Office for the Prevention of Tropical Diseases. He saw that Palestinian life expectancy, newborn and child mortality, and maternal mortality were all lower than the occupying nation’s.
The occupation resulted in a slew of financial issues in the healthcare industry. Movement restrictions, violence, obstructions to healthcare delivery, the arrest and detention of healthcare staff, and the demolition of healthcare institutions have all curtailed Palestinians’ humanitarian space. Dr. Ghada Jadba, the director of UNRWA’s Gaza field health program, described the impacts of four battles in Gaza since 2007. Dr. Ameer Qoulaq, a UNRWA medical administrator in Gaza, described how an attack in May 2021 killed 22 of his relatives. “I do not believe we should accept this,” said Dr. Akihiro Seita, UNRWA’s Director of Health. Last Monday, the Director-General of WHO presented a report on health conditions in the oPt to the World Health Assembly.
Seven recommendations were made to the Israeli government, including ending the arbitrary delay and denial of permits for Palestinian patients in need of essential care; ending the arbitrary delay and detention of ambulances and healthcare personnel at checkpoints; facilitating the entry of all essential medicines and medical supplies; ending discriminatory planning policies that prevent the development of health facilities; ensuring the protection of health workers; and ensuring the protection of Palestinian patients. The Israeli delegation blasted WHO for holding this debate with “double standards,” claiming that “Israel is put on trial every year, Israel is treated differently every year, and Israel has its day every year.”
When asked why Palestinians were not included in the World Health Organization’s World Health Statistics. “oPt is recognized as a member of EMRO countries, and all EMRO reports and data include oPt,” EMRO declared. So, why are Palestinians missing from WHO’s official statistics? There was no reasonable explanation given. According to WHO, the oPt has a significant enough population to deserve inclusion.
The agency will review the status of the oPt in upcoming reports. The WHO Director-General was correct to emphasize the significance of peace for health. However, as anyone who has spent time in the oPt understands, talking about peace in the absence of justice undermines the position of a people who have undergone “the hundred-year war on Palestine,” in the words of Palestinian-American historian Rashid Khalidi. WHO must apologize for leaving the Palestinian people out of global health assessments, commit to including the oPt in future evaluations, and never speak of peace without justice.