Despite progress on health, Syria needs to do more – UN rights expert

15 November 2010

While commending Syria's efforts to advance the right to health, an independent United Nations expert today called on the Government to do more to ensure access to quality services for everyone living in the Middle Eastern nation.

Anand Grover, the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to health, noted the work carried out to improve the country's health system and the “admirable” advances made in almost all key health indicators.

“Coverage rates are extremely high – upwards of 90 per cent – and the centres in Syria that I visited were well staffed and well maintained,” Mr. Grover said in a news release issued at the end of his recent visit.

Also, improvements in maternal and child mortality rates place Syria “close to the top of the developing world” in terms of health-related achievements, he added.

At the same time, he noted that the country's high fertility rate and its “urban-rural divide” in the delivery of health care services are among the challenges in ensuring sexual and reproductive rights.

He also called for increasing awareness of gender-based violence, for which no data was available during his mission, and for giving adequate attention to ensuring the rights of women subjected to this scourge, as well as to prevention, treatment and rehabilitation.

Mr. Grover also strongly commended Syria for its commitment to provide health care services for up to 1.5 million Iraqi refugees, particularly in light of resource restraints.

However, he said that other vulnerable groups in need of particular assistance within the Syrian population itself might remain unrecognized. This is due to a lack of data collection on demographic factors which could reveal health issues in certain population groups.

He also called on the Government to resolve issues around the status of those individuals of Kurdish origin in Syria who have been made stateless by government decree. Barriers to accessing health care still exist for such people, he noted, adding that “they are precisely the kind of disadvantaged group that international human rights law is designed to protect.”

The Special Rapporteur's visit included a tour of the health facility in the Damascus central prison, the first time a UN-appointed official has been granted access to a prison in the country.

Mr. Grover works in an independent and unpaid capacity and reports to the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council.


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