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Substantial progress on health in Syria, but more needs to be done, says UN expert

DAMASCUS (15 November 2010) – The UN Special Rapporteur on the right to health, Mr Anand Grover, has commended the Syrian Arab Republic’s commitment to realizing the right to health, but said more needs to be done to ensure delivery of quality services, particularly in rural areas.

In his statement, Mr. Grover congratulated the Republic for explicit provision of the right to health in its constitution, and referred to Syria’s “commendable work in the last three decades” in improving the country’s health system in its entirety.

“Admirable advances have been made amongst nearly all key health indicators” said the Special Rapporteur. “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’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. Although Mr. Grover also praised the Government’s commitment to provide health care services on a non-discriminatory basis, he said more needs to be done to ensure delivery of quality services nationwide, particularly in rural areas.

Women’s and children’s health
The Special Rapporteur welcomed improvements in the maternal and child mortality rates, which “place Syria close to the top of the developing world in terms of health-related achievements.” He observed that Syria’s high fertility rate, and its persistent “urban/rural divide” in delivery of health care services, are ongoing challenges in realizing sexual and reproductive rights.

He also stressed the importance of increasing awareness of gender-based violence, a problem for which no data was available during his mission. He called upon the Government to give due attention to the “protection of human rights of women in this process, and … to prevention, treatment and rehabilitation.”

Vulnerable groups
Mr. Grover also strongly commended the Syrian Government for its commitment to provide comprehensive health care services for up to 1.5 million Iraqi refugees, particularly in light of resource restraints.

However, Mr. Grover concluded 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. Mr. Grover noted that collection of more disaggregated data would not, in itself, be discriminatory, and would serve to identify groups in need of special attention and care.

The Special Rapporteur also called upon the Government to follow up on the resolution of the President, who committed to resolving the issues around the status of those individuals of Kurdish origin in Syria who have been made stateless by government decree. Mr Grover noted that barriers to accessing health care still exist for such people, and said that “they are precisely the kind of disadvantaged group that international human rights law is designed to protect”.

Mr. Grover thanked the Government and the UN Resident Coordinator’s Office for facilitating the mission. He also encouraged the Syrian Government to extend a standing invitation, thus ensuring that other special procedures mandate-holders could visit the country in the future.

ENDS

Mr. Anand Grover was appointed Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health by the UN Human Rights Council in 2008. He is independent from any government or organization and serves in his individual capacity.

To see the Special Rapporteur's full statement on Syria: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=10532&LangID=E

To learn more about the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the right to health, visit:
http://www2.ohchr.org/english/issues/health/right/

For further information and media requests, please contact Yoonie Kim (Tel: +41 22 917 96 43 / e-mail: srhealth@ohchr.org)