Syrians attack WHO for appointment of regime minister's wife

Syrians attack WHO for appointment of regime minister's wife
3 min read
29 Feb, 2016
An online campaign has called the World Health Organisation to 'reconsider' its decision to appoint the wife of Syria's deputy foreign minister to assess the mental health of displaced Syrians.
Mekdad is not known as a figure in public mental health [Twitter]

Syrian social media users have launched an online campaign calling on the World Health Organisation (WHO) to reconsider the appointing of the wife of a Syrian regime minister as a consultant.

According to the online petition, appointing Shukria Mekdad, wife of Syrian deputy foreign minister Faisal Mekdad, a powerful defender of the government's war effort, was "not the best choice".

"We believe that your honoured organisation can appoint a more credible and a less biased person for this position," the petitions said, addressing WHO director Margaret Chan.

"Considering the situation in Syria, hiring her can worsen the state of mind for millions of Syrians who fled their homes during the last five years of war," the petition added.

The petition has gathered more than 270 signatures towards its target of 300.

WHO recently appointed Mekdad to assess the mental health of Syrians forced to flee their homes, raising accusations of bias.

Mekdad, who is known "less for her expertise than for her connections", according to the New York Times, is not known as a figure in public mental health, nor has she published on the topic. 

Her selection for the WHO position has led critics to lambast the United Nations agency.

Jennifer Leaning, a professor at Harvard's TH Chan School of Public Health, said the quality of any data gathered by Mekdad on the mental health of Syrians, displaced by a war her husband has helped prosecute, would be questioned.

At this point it reflects a degree of tone-deafness that is not appropriate.
- Jennifer Leaning

Leaning also scrutinised what she called the "optics" of hiring a senior Syrian government official's wife as a consultant on something as sensitive as mental health.

"At this point it reflects a degree of tone-deafness that is not appropriate," she said.

Elizabeth Hoff, the WHO chief in Damascus, defended the choice to hire Mekdad, saying her team included people from all political camps.

"I didn't recruit them based on their names or their connections," Hoff said. "I also have people in my office who are strongly with the opposition."

Hiring Mekdad as a consultant for WHO was also condemned by social media users, who described the decision as "scandalous" and "offensive" to the Syrian people.

Translation: Shukria Mekdad is the wife and accomplice of a criminal called Faisal Mekdad, and criminals belong in prison, not in United Nations agencies.

Translation: They wanted to hire Asmaa al-Assad [Bashar al-Assad's wife], but she was busy.

More than 260,000 people are estimated to have been killed in the Syrian war since 2011, with the regime of Bashar al-Assad accountable for at least 180,000 of those deaths.

Almost 14 million Syrians have fled their homes as a result of the war. Close to eight million are internally displaced within Syria and more than six million have sought refuge in neighbouring Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq.

Inside Syria, a quarter of all children are at risk of developing a mental health disorder, a United Nations humanitarian report found.