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Source: World Health Organization (WHO)
19 September 2007

WHO Issues an Urgent Appeal to Ensure the Continuity of Health Services
Provision in the Occupied Palestinian Territory in 2008

Jerusalem – September 19, 2007 – The World Health Organization (WHO) wishes to express its deep concern regarding the likelihood of acute shortages of medical items in 2008 in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt) if donors' financial commitments are further delayed.

As a response to the suspension of direct donors’ funding to the Palestinian Authority in 2006, which threatened to negatively affect health care delivery and public health programmes, mechanisms were set up to support the Ministry of Health (MoH) in ensuring the continuous delivery of pharmaceuticals in 2007.

With the European Commission's Humanitarian Aid Department (ECHO) funding, WHO initiated in January the implementation of a large project primarily designed with the MoH to meet roughly one third of its essential needs in pharmaceuticals for 2007. Hence, essential drugs, laboratory items, disposables and supplementary drugs have been purchased for an amount of US$10 million – 85% of which has been distributed to central and periphery levels in the oPt to date. A wide range of technical support activities was also provided, whereby over 730 Palestinian pharmacists and MoH staff were trained. Furthermore, WHO monitors drug availability at central and district levels, facilitates the coordination of stakeholders in response to shortages of medicines and ensures the Ministry's storage of pharmaceuticals through the renting and upgrading of premises in Ramallah and Gaza.

In parallel, the World Bank, through the Emergency Services Support Programme, granted approximately the other two thirds of the MoH pharmaceutical needs for 2007, while UN agencies and the ICRC ensured the provision of specific items and other organizations filled gaps upon occurrence of specific shortages in the drug supply.

Within those mechanisms and at different stages of the year, a combination of factors - administrative constraints, delays in procurement, prolonged strike of the MoH employees, storage limitations at MoH and difficulties to ensure a steady supply to Gaza – resulted in heavy fluctuations of the drug supply flow. Nevertheless, the situation has now stabilized: shortages at MoH level have decreased by 30 percent. Moreover, contributions from the Spanish Cooperation and the Central Emergency Response Fund of the UN have allowed WHO to secure US$2.6 million to cover foreseen gaps in the coming months. Discussions are also ongoing with ECHO for additional funds to ensure timely procurement of essential drugs. Providing that importation and distribution are not impaired by political obstacles, the situation is thus expected to remain stable for the remainder of 2007 and in the first months of 2008.

However, an in-depth assessment by WHO and the MoH shows bleak forecasts for as early as March 2008. The pending donor commitment and the consequent delay in the arrival of funds for 2008, combined with the lengthy timeframe required for procurement, importation, delivery and distribution are expected to lead to potential dramatic consequences on the drug supply flow. Informal contributions only allow for the provision of rapid response and fine-tuning to specific shortages, but cannot replace a comprehensive response for the needs of the pharmaceutical sector in the oPt.

In order to prevent acute shortages in essential drugs and avert a humanitarian health crisis next year, WHO urges the international community to pledge funds for essential drugs, medical supplies and disposables for 2008.

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