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Health care inaccessibility plays role in Arab Spring

Enis Baris, who works for the World Bank, spoke Wednesday  in Trent Hall about the health implications of the Arab Spring.
Enis Baris, who works for the World Bank, spoke Wednesday in Trent Hall about the health implications of the Arab Spring.

For people living in the Middle East and North Africa, the current health system holds political ramifications.

In a lecture Wednesday, Dr. Enis Baris, health sector manager for the Human Development Department for the Middle East and North Africa at the World Bank, focused on how frustrations with the lack of health care accessibility in the Middle East was a contributing factor to the Arab Spring—the revolutionary events that swept through the region starting December 2010. Baris emphasized that marginal improvement have been seen in health care since the Arab Spring because more people in the region are taking initiative in improving the health care system.

“Arab people [are frustrated] with their health care systems, corruption, inequalities in health, financial barriers... people in the education and health sector,” Baris said. “There are some key words—if you do a discourse analysis of what they say, they are pretty much fed up.”

Delving more specifically into health care concerns, Baris noted that huge socioeconomic discrepancies within the region contribute to poor health. For example, Egypt has both the highest occurrence of child malnutrition and one of the highest rates of obesity, adding that the wealthiness of an area is one factor in this disparity.

The World Bank is currently trying to address this issue by finding ways to improve the health of adolescents.

“We are looking at how to take the youth and keep the youth healthy and productive... in order to avoid the issues with long term non-communicable disease,” he said.

Baris went on to say how health care and education were the major concerns for Arabs, with 54 percent of people interviewed in Egypt claiming that it was a pressing issue they wish the government would address.

Corruption in the government, however, has prevented these issues from being addressed. Political corruption, patronage and nepotism are among the factors that perpetuate the issues in the region, Baris said. He noted, however, that there is hope for improvement.

“The World Bank is taking initiative,” Baris said. “[There is] a $75 million project which aims at improving the institutional capacity, which is responsible for buying health services for the white collared and blue collared average person in Egypt.”

Students who attended the session commented on Baris’ ability to break down how health is influenced by political issues in the area.

Freshman Mousa Alshanteer—who also writes a column for The Chronicle—commended Baris’ presentation on the various health standards in the region, whereas Freshman Julia Mikhailova was struck by the health disparities within a single country.

“I was most interested in that they had such high levels of female obesity contrasted with such high levels of malnutrition,” she said.

Despite issues prevalent within the area, Arabs taking initiative have allowed for the possibility of future improvement.

“Local people are more expressive,” Baris said. “People are expressing openly what they think of health services, and the governments are paying attention to what the people want.”


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