WHO Regional Director for Europe signs agreement for new centre of excellence and visits Gaziantep, marking 60 years of cooperation with Turkey
During a visit to Turkey on 8–10 July, at the invitation of Dr Fahrettin Koca, Turkey’s Minister of Health, WHO Regional Director for Europe Dr Hans Henri P. Kluge signed the financial agreement with Turkey to establish a new WHO centre of excellence for Preparedness for Humanitarian and Health Emergencies.
The first overseas visit made by the Regional Director since the easing of some COVID-19 restrictions also included meetings with the Minister of Health, WHO staff in Ankara and Gaziantep, and health care workers in the country. The Regional Director also travelled to Bab al-Salam, one of the United Nations logistical bases for conducting cross-border operations between Turkey and Syria, delivering lifesaving medicines and other humanitarian supplies to northwest Syria.
Preparedness for current and future emergencies
The financial agreement to establish the new centre was signed by Dr Kluge and Dr Koca in Ankara. Serving as the regional centre of excellence for emergency preparedness, the geographically dispersed office will provide technical and operational expertise in the area and help strengthen the capacities of Member States in the Region to be prepared and equipped to respond to humanitarian and health emergencies such as COVID-19.
Dr Kluge and Dr Koca also discussed Turkey’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, discussing the improving pandemic situation in Turkey with the country’s Scientific Advisory Board on COVID-19. WHO Regional Director for Europe congratulated Turkey on its response to COVID-19 and thanked the country for its leadership in offering global solidarity, for its generous health care provision policy ensuring free testing and treatment for all, including refugees and migrants, and for donating critical lifesaving supplies of protective equipment and ventilators to 138 countries and five international organizations.
Speaking during the press conference, Dr Kluge warned that the COVID-19 pandemic is not over, but also expressed his appreciation, saying: “I want to commend the people of Turkey and your authorities for your response to the pandemic and expression of solidarity within and beyond your borders in addressing health and humanitarian emergencies.”
Visit to Gaziantep
During the country visit, Dr Kluge met with United Nations leadership in Gaziantep. This included a visit to United Nations Cross-Border operations at Bab al-Salam along with Mark Cutts, Deputy Regional Humanitarian Coordinator for the Syria Crisis. Between January and May 2020, WHO’s office in Gaziantep delivered over 990 tonnes of medical supplies and equipment, including 5.2 million medical treatments, to northwest Syria.
In addition, Dr Kluge visited the Refugee Health Training Centre (RHTC) in Gaziantep. This centre, like the seven others spread across the country, provides health care to Syrian refugees in adjoining areas under WHO’s EU-funded Refugee Health Programme in Turkey. A vast majority of health care workers in these RHTCs are from Syria and have been trained and integrated into Turkey’s workforce to ensure provision of culturally acceptable primary health care for over 3.5 million Syrian refugees in the country.
The visit also marked the first time a Regional Director from WHO/Europe has visited the WHO field office in Gaziantep, part of WHO’s whole-of-Syria response, implemented and executed jointly by WHO/EURO and WHO/EMRO. The visit was an opportunity for Gaziantep staff to hold a virtual meeting with Dr Kluge due to COVID-19-related restrictions.
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