Jun. 22 2012

On a recent visit to Amman, Jordan, Mailman School Dean Linda Fried and two senior faculty members took part in a series of meetings on health and healthcare concerns in Jordan at the Columbia University Global Center in Amman.  Joining Dr. Fried on the trip were Drs. Wafaa El-Sadr, Director of ICAP and the Mailman School’s Global Health Initiative, and Richard Deckelbaum, Director of Columbia’s Institute of Human Nutrition.

Leading a series of roundtable discussions, Dr. Fried spoke with prominent Jordanian healthcare policy makers, practitioners, and scholars to explore challenges and innovative approaches necessary for improving health and healthcare in Jordan and across the Middle East region. This roundtable panel followed a speech by Dr. Fried on the needs in Jordan and other developing countries to simultaneously meet the needs of an aging population and a “youth bulge” of citizens under age 25.  These young people will go on to live longer lives than the generations before them.

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Dean Linda Fried visits the Taybeh Clinic and is pictured with Drs. Wafaa El-Sadr, Richard Deckelbaum and UNRWA leadership and clinic staff.

Dr. Fried’s speech was introduced by Dr. Bassam Hijawi, head of the Disease Control Directorate at Jordan’s Ministry of Health, who provided an overview of regional health data. While Jordan has the lowest infant mortality rates in the region after the Gulf States, chronic diseases are on a steep rise and of major concern in Jordan.

Among data cited by Dr. Hijawi:

  • About one-third of Jordan’s population is overweight, 16.8% have diabetes, and 28.6% have hypertension.
     
  • The prevalence of obesity has doubled in 10 years, and currently affects 39.5% of the population.
     
  • Cancer rates have skyrocketed, especially since a cancer registry was established in 1996.

As part of the trip, Dean Fried visited the Middle East and visited the Taybeh Clinic, a facility of the United Nations Relief and Work Agency that provides primary care and public health to Palestinian refugees.  The clinic is piloting a new family-centered model of care, where healthcare providers as well as community officials work in teams, each responsible for providing the full range of healthcare services needed by refugee families. After several months of preparatory work, the clinic is now offering services within this new framework and was seeking Columbia’s expertise in evaluating the program.

At Taybeh, Dr. Fried met with teachers, school principals, and families and other beneficiaries of the clinic. Healthcare officials noted that the Columbia delegation had arrived at an opportune moment.

“The expertise and leadership that Columbia and the Mailman School can provide to help guide the project is both timely and essential for the next phase of growth and expansion of healthcare services in the region,” said Professor Safwan Masri, PhD, Director of the Columbia Global Center in Jordan. “Having the academic participation and evidence-based research that institutions like Columbia and the Mailman School can offer is considered critical to those working here on the ground.”

There is consensus among the leadership in the Middle East that a change in lifestyle and a comprehensive long-term, integrated strategy is necessary to improve health status. More specifically, healthcare officials cited the need for indicators and benchmarks to analyze preventive health practices, and called for an action plan, with the Mailman School providing technical support where needed. 

“We are well positioned to contribute,” noted Dean Fried. “One health official told me that the region needs a ‘life-course approach to prevention’ in order to get a handle on the rise of chronic diseases. In my opinion, that is precisely the foundation of 21st century public health and it underpins our new MPH curriculum at the Mailman School.”

The Columbia team plans to convene another roundtable in Amman in the fall to take the discussions further. Also scheduled is a visit by Mailman School Professor of Population and Family Health, Alastair Ager, who will present case studies and other information on the family health team approach.

Over the summer, a working group composed of roundtable attendees and representatives of governmental, non-governmental, and private sectors will follow up on the issues raised at these meetings.