Address by Ted Chaiban, UNICEF Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa at the WHO, UNICEF, UNFPA Joint Meeting with Ministers of Health

As Delivered (via Zoom)

17 November 2020
UNICEF MENA Regional Director

Thank you very much, Dr. Ahmad.


Excellencies Ministers of Health,

Distinguished Colleagues from Ministries of Health,

UN colleagues, especially my brothers Dr. Ahmad and Dr. Loay, and friends,

It is a real pleasure to be with you here today to learn more about how COVID-19 s impacting Reproductive, Maternal, New-born, Adolescent and Child Health (RMNACH) services in your countries and, importantly, what more we can do together to address (the) remaining gaps.

Earlier in the year we estimated that the reduction in coverage of essential health services, compounded by the increase prevalence of wasting, might result in an additional 51,000 deaths (among children) under the age of five by the end of the year in the Middle East and North Africa.  I would really like to commend your commitment to avert this from happening in your countries.   We are already seeing some of the results of your engagement with, for example, coverage for routine immunization for children in many countries starting to recover to pre-COVID levels.

However, for most of the vulnerable members of our society and those whose voices are either unheard or last to be heard- women and the new-born - care during pregnancy, child-birth by skilled personnel and care for new mothers and new-born babies after delivery remains a challenge, as Dr Ahmad has said.

In some countries, ante-natal coverage in 2020 remains as less than 50 per cent of the levels seen over the same period in 2019 while in other countries only half the women utilized the services of skilled health providers for child-birth in comparison with last year. Similarly, many children continue to miss out on treatment and care for common childhood illnesses. The utilization of these treatment services is down by a third in 2020 compared with the same period of time in 2019.

To address this drop, we would request your continued leadership in raising the importance of utilizing RMNCAH services in your speeches and communications, in bringing all stakeholders together to engage communities for increasing utilization of these services and in allocating adequate financial and human resources to these services.

Our frontline health workers need to have – as we’ve addressed before – the necessary supplies, including PPEs (Personal Protective Equipment), and facilities need to have updated infection prevention and control measures. In addition, we would propose monitoring the utilization of our RMNCAH services very closely at (the) national and sub national level in order to track progress and take corrective actions in real-time. 

As we enter 2021, we are optimistic that your ability to access the COVID-19 vaccine during the year will contribute to further enhancing trust in the primary health care systems and UNICEF is working with WHO and other partners on the procurement and safe distribution of the COVID-19 vaccines is in line with demand, communication and community engagement.

In closing, allow me to reiterate UNICEF’s support to your sustained commitment to all mothers and children in your countries, so that they are able to access the services they need for their health and well-being.

I really look forward to learning and hearing from you during the panel discussions about the tangible, sustainable actions that I hope we can all agree to protect the lives of millions of children in this region.

It's really now my pleasure to give the floor to my colleague and brother, Dr. Luay Shabaneh UNFPA Regional Director for the Arab States region,

Luay, over to you.

Media contacts

Juliette Touma
Regional Chief of Communications
UNICEF Middle East and North Africa Regional Office
Tel: 00962798674628


UNICEF promotes the rights and wellbeing of every child, in everything we do. Together with our partners, we work in 190 countries and territories to translate that commitment into practical action, focusing special effort on reaching the most vulnerable and excluded children, to the benefit of all children, everywhere.

For more information about UNICEF and its work for children, visit

Follow UNICEF on  Twitter   Facebook   Instagram   LinkedIn   Youtube   TikTok


Join our UNICEF MENA WhatsApp group to get the latest news. Send us a text message at the following number and we'll add you to our list: 00962790082531