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Panel Wants Health Care Free of Politics

reform should focus on distancing the sector from politics and confessionalism so Lebanese could have equitable access to services, said a panel of health specialists who met at the American University of Beirut this week. Discussing the findings of “Health Beyond Politics” (2009), a new book on the Lebanese health sector published by Walid Ammar, the director general of the Health Ministry, the panel highlighted the successes and failures of the Lebanese system.

“Despite political crises, economic austerity, and military conflicts, the health status of the population has been improving … and the GDP share of expenditures has been decreasing,” wrote Ammar in his book.

But the panel noted that the book is not merely descriptive, but prescriptive, offering solutions and strategies to improving the status of the health sector in the country.

Ammar highlighted some of the main findings of the book, arguing that negotiations preparing the government’s accession to the World Trade Organization “have not been successful,” or mindful of the country’s health sector. On the other hand, the policy statement of the newly formed Cabinet has been promising. “For the first time, the policy statement includes more than one page on the health sector,” said Ammar. “Usually, the section on health is barely a paragraph long.”

Ammar also lauded the ministry’s efforts in controlling drug-prices increases, but acknowledged that the team failed in reducing prices.

Dean of Health Sciences Iman Nuwayhid introduced the panel discussion, lauding Ammar’s efforts at diagnosing the ills of the Lebanese health sector through an evidence-based approach.

Nuwayhid also emphasized the need for coordinating between research centers and institutions and the public center so decision-makers would draft policies based on national needs.

In addition to Ammar, the six-member panel included Georges Aftimos, the president of the Order of Physicians; Suleiman Haroun, the president of the Syndicate of Private Hospitals; Nabil Kronfol, member of the Bbard of the Lebanese Health Care Management Association (LHMA); Ghassan Issa, Public Health and Civil Society expert; and Fady al-Jardali, assistant professor of health care and policy at AUB.

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