On Thursday, February 16, 2017, AVSI Foundation officially launched the project Open Hospitals, which aims to enhance and empower three Catholic hospitals in Syria. The event took place in Rome at The Agostino Gemelli Teaching Hospital, which runs the Gemelli Foundation, AVSI’s partner in this project. The other partner is the Cor Unum, Pontifical Council in charge of directing and coordinating the organizations and charitable initiatives of the Catholic Church. Gemelli Foundation has already contributed to the Open Hospitals project with 1 million Euros. AVSI will run the project for three years and it aims to create 42,000 new hospital beds per year.
“In Syria, everything has been destroyed: houses, hospitals, infrastructures. Syrians are broken, their bodies are broken, their spirits are broken. There is an urgent need to fix not only the structures, but mainly the people,” said Cardinal Mario Zenari, the current Apostolic Nuncio to Syria. “It is just a drop, albeit a very precious drop, in our sea of necessities.”
The cardinal conceived the idea of the Open Hospitals project with Msgr. Giampetro Dal Toso, secretary of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development. The project will collect and financially support the Italian Hospital and St. Louis Hospital, in Damascus, and the St. Louis Hospital in Aleppo. Currently, these three hospitals are operating at half their capacity. AVSI’s project aims to increase the access to free health care services for patients who cannot afford them, establish a Social Services office to assess and guarantee access to treatment and care to those most in need, and update the information and technology systems of the hospitals by acquiring necessary equipment and training staff accordingly.
“Each of these hospitals is going to open new departments to face needs and urgencies that came out after the conflict: special departments for traumatized children, for women who were subjected to violence and rape during the conflict, and for those mutilated by war,” cardinal Zenari said.
After nearly six years of war, the Syrian health system is collapsing. According to UN OCHA current figures, an astounding 11.5 million Syrians, including nearly 5 million children, do not have access to health care. In Damascus, at least 1.5 million of people don’t have access to hospitals, and in Aleppo the number reaches 2.2 million.
“We can only survive a tragedy like this if we take little and concrete steps,” said Giovanni Raimondi, Gemelli Foundation president during the event.
“In Syria more people die for lack of healthcare than in the battlefield and this is unacceptable,” said Rocco Bellantone, dean of the Faculty of Medicine and Surgery at Gemelli Hospital.
AVSI’s staff is back in New York to participate in the UN high-level Summit for Refugees and Migrants. This is the first time that the UN General Assembly has called for a summit at the level of Heads of State and Government on large movements of refugees and migrants, a topic that has been largely addressed by AVSI Foundation, an international humanitarian NGO based in Milan.
AVSI is giving a significant contribution to the international debate: in July, Rana Najib, who manages AVSI’s educational projects in Lebanon, was invited by the UN to be a panelist in an interactive multi-stakeholder hearing, whose main goal was to provide an opportunity for Member States to exchange views and to inform the inter-governmental negotiation toward the finalization of an outcome document for the UN Summit for Refugees and Migrants.
Now, after months of meetings and hearings, the Summit for Refugees and Migrants will take place on September 19 with a fundamental goal: to come up with a blueprint for a better international response. It will be a watershed moment to strengthen governance of international migration and a unique opportunity for creating a more responsible, predictable system for responding to large movements of refugees and migrants. AVSI’s staff will be there to participate in the summit and share their experience.
As part of the General Assembly efforts to discuss the theme, the Italian Government is organizing a high-level side event that will take place on Wednesday, September 21. The event will discuss “Large Movements of Refugees and Migrants: Global Challenge, Regional Responses, Comprehensive Strategy” (UN Headquarters, Conference Room 3). AVSI’s Secretary General, Giampaolo Silvestri, was invited to participate as panelist (See Program Below).
The following were also invited to participate in the event: the Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Paolo Gentiloni; Jordan’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Nasser Judeh; High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Filippo Grandi; High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini; and Former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Italy, Emma Bonino.
Silvestri will have the opportunity to share AVSI’s experience: the NGO was founded in 1972 and currently has 130 projects in 30 countries thanks to the work of its 1,300 staff members. During more than 40 years, AVSI has worked with thousands of refugees and migrants in their own countries, but also while in transit and finally in the country that hosts them. Thanks to its various projects, which target refugees, their communities and the host countries, AVSI has a complete understanding of the phenomenon of large movements of refugees and migrant that we are currently experiencing.