Iran hosts the UNICEF MENA Health and Nutrition Regional Network Meeting

A Premiere for UNICEF Iran Country Office

UNICEF Iran
Group photo_MENA Health and Nutrition Network Meeting
UNICEF Iran/2019/Andisheh Rad
23 June 2019

For the first time ever in the history of UNICEF’s presence in Iran, the biannual MENA regional health and nutrition network meeting was held in Tehran, Iran from 23 to 27 June 2019. Over 60 colleagues from UNICEF MENA Country Offices, the Regional Office and Headquarters gathered to discuss and exchange experiences on the integrated approach to programming for Goal Area 1 of the UNICEF Strategic Plan 2018-2021, with a particular focus on the delivery of a range of evidence-based interventions using a Primary Health Care (PHC) approach.

The network meeting officially kicked off with a high-level opening ceremony on 23rd June in Tehran with the presence of a large group of online, print and broadcasting media. The ceremony was attended by senior officials from the Ministry of Health and Medical Education including Dr. Harirchi, Acting Minister of Health, and Dr. Barekati, Director General of the Department for Population, Family and School Health, as well as Dr Asadi Laari, Director General of the International Affairs of the Ministry of Health. Many UNICEF Iran staff also attended the opening ceremony.

In his opening remarks, Dr Harirchi lauded UNICEF’s support to Iran’s government in improving the health of children over the past decades including UNICEF’s emergency response to revive health services for children in provinces badly affected by devastating floods in March 2019. He said: “At a time when unilateral sanctions have targeted the health of women and children in Iran, it is important that humanitarian organizations such as UNICEF continue to support the Ministry of Health – even stronger than before.”

Dr. Anirban Chatterje, the Regional Advisor for Health and Nutrition from UNICEF MENARO said: “As the focus of this regional meeting is on Primary Health Care, it was an easy decision for us to choose Iran as the host given the achievements in PHC by the Government.” He added: “We are thankful that as part of this meeting, the Ministry of Health and Medical Education of the Islamic Republic of Iran has given us the opportunity to visit some of the country’s PHC centres to get firsthand experience of the services provided, have the opportunity to interact with beneficiaries, and to learn from Iran’s many years of integrated PHC practice.”

In his opening remarks, UNICEF Iran Representative, Dr Will Parks pointed out some of the highlights of UNICEF’s support to the Ministry of Health and Medical Education over the past years including improving the neonatal survival rate as well as conducting important studies in child health and nutrition. He then reiterated the importance of Partnership in achieving results for children: “I think there are many definitions and elements of ‘partnership’, but perhaps these five are the most important – and I believe our relationship with the Ministry of Health demonstrates all five: firstly, mutual trust, secondly respect, thirdly shared goals and passion, fourthly complementary capacities. Lastly and perhaps the key to all, effective communication. We must do what we can as UNICEF and the whole UN to maintain if not to add to the bridges of partnership between Iran and the international community. This regional meeting is a good example of such a multilateral bridge.”

 

We are thankful that as part of this meeting, the Ministry of Health and Medical Education of the Islamic Republic of Iran has given us the opportunity to visit some of the country’s PHC centres to get firsthand experience of the services provided, have the opportunity to interact with beneficiaries, and to learn from Iran’s many years of integrated PHC practice.

Dr. Anirban Chatterje, the Regional Advisor for Health and Nutrition from UNICEF MENARO

Following the formal opening, the 5-day programme began. The first two days were spent on internal discussions on integrated PHC, followed by field visits to PHC service delivery points on the 3rd day for all participants. Participants were divided into 8 groups and visited PHC service provision sites covering different components including child health, HIV/AIDS, Prevention of Mother-to-Child Transmission of HIV, immunization, nutrition as well as maternal and neonatal health.

After the visits, the participants discussed the takeaways from what they had observed and prospects for south-south cooperation to exchange further experiences. They then had the opportunity to provide their feedback and pose questions in a moderated panel discussion with senior Ministry officials.

For the last two days, participants were divided into four groups to discuss how to scale up thematic policy, programme and advocacy actions in Early Childhood Development, HIV/AIDS, nutrition, as well as immunization and Public Health Emergencies.    

Participants were all impressed by the field visits and their observation of Iran’s PHC operations. Dr. Selena Bajraktarevic, Chief Health and Nutrition of the UNICEF State of Palestine, said: “What I was most impressed about during the field visits was the close linkage between the health system and education, which are medical universities. They are working hand in hand, and this is something I will take with me. [In Iran’s PHC] the interventions which are introduced in the health system are based upon academic training of health service providers.”

Dr Muazzam Hussein, Iraq Chief of Health and Nutrition, was one of the many regional network participants who walked out of the final session of the meeting on Thursday 27 June with a smile of satisfaction: “This was my first time visiting Iran and I was absolutely amazed by the beauty of this country,” he said. “But professionally speaking, the most interesting part of this network meeting for me was the field visits to Iran’s PHC system. This is an amazing model that many countries in the region, including the middle-income countries can adopt. Huge governmental, professional and human resources investment and commitment was made to operationalize these centres.” He paused for a moment and said: “Iran’s PHC system was a great example for all of us.”