StateSec Dr. Raed Arafat: No borders should exist in medicine or civil protection

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In fields like medicine or civil protection it's normal that there are no borders. We opened now a road that will not close, but widen and it will contain various areas of collaboration, State Secretary with the Interior Ministry Raed Arafat told AGERPRES in an interview, at the end of the visit he paid to Palestine, on the occasion of the 2nd Palestinian-Romanian International Medical Congress.

The event was organised by the Association of Palestinian Physicians and Pharmacists of Romania (AMFPR), in Al-Bireh, in collaboration with the Palestine's Health Ministry, the Embassy of the State of Palestine and the Department for Emergency Situations (DSU), with the support of Romania's Office of Representation in Palestine and under the umbrella of President of Palestinian National Authority Mahmoud Abbas.

The DSU chief was in the West Bank, from Thursday to Saturday, where he had a series of meetings in Ramallah and Nablus with local and national officials, and paid visits to several hospitals and firefighters and police departments. Before taking the flight back home to Romania, Doctor Raed Arafat exclusively granted AGERPRES an interview in which he talked about the results of these visits, about the collaboration with other states in the emergency interventions area, as well as about the "health status" of Romania's medical system.

AGERPRE: You have participated in the 2nd Palestinian-Romanian International Medical Congress that took place in Palestine, where more than two hundred Romanian and Palestinian medical doctors were present, and you had a series of meetings at Ramallah and Nablus with representatives of the national and local administration. What are the conclusions of this marathon visit to Palestine?

Raed Arafat: From the discussions that we had, that were also attended by our representative in Palestine Mr Ambassador Catalin-Mihai Tirlea, representatives of the medical area have voiced a clear interest for the training of the medical doctors. They would like to also send students next year, and I believe that this is good, but they are very interested in sending several physicians for a short-term training — six months, one year ... — a fellowship form in the area of emergency medicine. They are developing the emergency medicine expertise and we already had medical doctors here of the Palestinian area, who have spent six months of their residency in Targu-Mures and they had very good results. And I understood that this is what it is wanted, to resume this activity and, certainly, it will be an activity that we will accomplish.

The second thing that I discussed was the possibility to send colleagues here, who will stay a week or two, in order to see how they work and offer more advices, namely a know-how transfer, a thing which again does not seem to rise any issue on the medical side.

An aspect that is outside the emergency area, but which I believe is good to work on, is the collaboration on the oncology side — they are building an oncology hospital for which they earmarked funds that stand at 140 million US dollars only for the building. A collaboration with experienced institutions is needed. They started to collaborate with the "King Hussein" National Oncology Center in Amman, that already has established relations with the Oncology Institute of Cluj, and, I and Mr Ambassador, we'll try to connect it so that it become a three way collaboration, namely Jordan, the Institute of Cluj and the Palestinian side.

Moreover, talks have been carried out with Palestinian medical doctors' associations, who graduated in Romania's faculties, especially on the medical side, and their request is very similar with the one of the Health Minsitry of Palestine, in the first place this short-term training. Then, there is a very big interest from mixed families to send their children to carry out their residency in medicine, and in other areas also, in Romania.

In conclusion, all requests that we received were aimed at bidirectional know-how transfer — whether they come to us or we send specialists here (specialists in Palestine) — and training. There were no requests for equipment or something of this kind.

AGERPRES: During the meetings you have been asked for help, and, in your turn, offered it, in the Civil Protection area. What did you set out in this regard?

Raed Arafat: The Civil Protection chief of Palestine visited us this year at the graduation of the first Palestinian civil protection officers who graduated from the Police Academy — the Fire Department, and then we set out some aspects with him in this regard. We have had a concrete discussion and they also want short-term courses of specialization for officers in various areas of civil protection and firefighters, which will be very easy to do, either by sending instructors from the General Inspectorate for Emergency Situations (IGSU) to Palestine for a few days, or several Palestinian officers come and do these courses in Romania.

Another aspect which is of interest for them is the further training of staff. But now, as of this year, we are already talking about 60 civil protection officers to be trained through scholarships offered by Romania. Their request is that in the future some of these scholarships turn into scholarships for non-commissioned officers (NCOs), with a shorter duration of training, of one year, at the Boldesti School of Firefighters and Civil Protection NCOs, which, in principle, we have also discussed about with Mrs Minister, at a certain time and there are no problems. The Foreign Affairs Ministry supports this idea, and I think we will turn ten of our scholarships into at least eight NCOs scholarships starting with the session that will begin at the end of 2018.

Of course, here I have discussed an aspect with them and Mr. Ambassador, namely that of trying to make a project among Romania, the Palestinian Civil Protection and the European Union. There are possibilities, there are opportunities in this sense, we are going to study or to analyse them, to discuss at EU level in Brussels, and, of course, Mr Ambassador and his counterpart who represents the EU to the Palestinian Authority, and see if there are solutions through which we can fund certain projects. Especially since the interest is on the disaster side, as they have a quite significant risk of earthquakes, therefore the focus is on the training in search and rescue, which we are also doing in Romania, and possibly even on a basic endowment supported on a EU level, but this is just an idea for the project and we are going to see if it is doable or not.

AGERPRES: You have also had meetings with people in charge with the Police and Gendarmerie. What collaboration opportunities between Romania and Palestine have you identified?

Raed Arafat: In the discussions with the people in charge with the Police and Gendarmerie the requests have been also on the education, training and know-how transfer. They already have collaborations with various European countries and with the US and have asked for the creation of a connection with the similar institutions of Romania. Therefore we'll facilitate these relations with the colleagues from the Gendarmerie and the Police, certainly through Mr Secretary of State Nucu Marin, who is in charge of this area at the Interior Ministry.

AGERPRES: How was the Saturday visit to Nablus?

Raed Arafat: The visit to Nablus began with a meeting with Mrs Vice Governor of the Nablus district, and she spoke to us about the need of know-how transfer, particularly on the emergency planning area. In Nablus, also, we have paid a visit to the Fire Department, where there is a special situation, as the firemen in Nablus are not part of the civil protection system, but are subordinated to the city hall. There are two cities in Palestine which remained on the old model, they didn't switch to the national civil protection and remained as a separate fire department. Thus, we were asked to analyse the operating manner and the needs there and an auditing mission can be conducted to this end. Then there was a meeting with the Red Crescent, where I went also in my capacity as the Vice President of the Red Cross. There is a wish to collaborate with the Romanian Red Cross organisation and to strengthen the relations, and I can tell you that here we also have something to learn from them, same as they, possibly, have something to learn from us.

AGERPRES: In respect to the visit you paid to the Red Crescent, there have been talks about a plan on the construction of a hospital complex in the eastern side and an experience exchange with Romanian doctors. What can you tell us about this project?

Raed Arafat: This has been, indeed, another request, that of supporting them with the know-how for the personnel to be working in the respective hospital. It is a long-term project and it is going to be discussed with them. Those with the Red Crescent have extraordinary activities from a social and humanitarian point of view in the area and deserve to see how work is done, how funding is ensured, as they are also a main supplier of emergency medical assistance — this being something specific to Israel, where the main emergency medical assistance supplier is Magen David Adom, an organisation similar to the Red Cross and the Red Crescent. We also discussed about the emergency system, and they voiced the desire to organise classes, also requested by the Health Minister (of Palestine), on trauma. Romania currently has a number of trainers on the European class on trauma, which is very well standardized, taking up four days, an intensive course, and we'll analyse the possibility of sending a team to hold a class here, in Palestine, or that of those interested from Palestine coming to participate in such training in Romania.

AGERPRES: How do you appreciate the results of this second International Palestinian-Romanian Medical Congress? Which was the main reason for this visit to Palestine?
Raed Arafat: The congress was high-quality; over 20 Romanian medical doctors from various fields participated, emergency medicine, oncology, surgery, obstetrics and gynecology, anaesthesis... each presenting a paper. Also, the Palestinian counterparts presented papers and explanations on the manner in which their system operates. This conference will become similar to the Romanian-Jordanian medical one, every two years, and I definitely believe that it will become a tradition, same as the one now reaching the tenth edition between the Romanian and the Jordanian side. All those who came here voiced their gratefulness for the way they were treated because everything was done at the invitation of the Palestinian side, which has also funded the transport and accommodation, and I can tell you that it was an experience exchange that must be strengthened in the medical area. We have opened a path that will never close, but will broaden and include various collaboration areas, humanitarian, necessity, such as civil medicine or protection, where it is natural not to have borders. I am glad that the visit of Mr Foreign Minister Teodor Melescanu, who had been here about two weeks before, opened the path for such things. Because, we must admit, it was extremely important that Mr Ambassador Tirlea took over his duties three weeks before and then he immediately received the official visit of Mr Melescanu, then this action was organised, the Palestinian-Romanian Congress, with all the official meetings. It was a major step of collaboration which might even bear fruit and this is what we are planning, for it not to be just a visit with talks, but one leading to pragmatic actions.

AGERPRES: During the visit you paid to the Fire Department in Nablus you had the opportunity to stand by the side of the firefighters' tanker you volunteered on as a teenager. How did that make you feel?

Raed Arafat: I was surprised to find in Nablus the very truck I worked on as volunteer, which is still functional. It was an extraordinary and very emotional thing for me.

AGERPRES: During the visit we could notice your energy, dynamism, promptness and efficiency as a person as well as the dedication you have in representing Romania meant to establish partnerships for medical staff training, for sharing Romania's experience, praised, as we have well seen, especially in the emergency interventions domain. Are there similar partnerships with other states besides Palestine?

Raed Arafat: Certainly. And the most eloquent example is the one with the Republic of Moldova, already in its second phase — the cross-border SMURD-2 project between Romania and Moldova has just been approved, a project financed through European funds, around 10 million euro and which aims at developing the capabilities of the Moldovan General Inspectorate for Emergency Situations, but there is also a medical target, to completely rebuild the emergency room of the main emergency hospital in Chisinau. The colleagues in Moldova used many of the materials we worked on, they adapted them, created new materials of interest for them, have begun to standardise things there, in the emergency medicine, which is impressive and I can tell Romania has played a part in it through the people who went there and transferred their know-how. We, in our turn, have learned interesting things there, so this is another high profile project. There are other cross-border projects along the IGSU [General Inspectorate for Emergency Situations — ed.n.] line, in the southern Giurgiu-Ruse area, at the Ukrainian border, in Suceava, at the Hungarian border, but the most developed is the one with the Republic of Moldova.

AGERPRES: The Minister of Health of Palestine, Jawad Awaad, has recalled the good cooperation relation with Romania, a country in which many Palestinian medical doctors have obtained their specialisation and have also started families, named during Thursday's meeting you had with him as "Romania's best ambassadors" to Palestine. Approximately how many medical doctors were trained in Romania?

Raed Arafat: I believe all those who graduated the Medical School in Romania, but do not live in Romania, be them from Palestine, Jordan or any other country, are Romania's ambassadors. They speak Romanian very well, some of them have started mixed families, they have children who speak Romanian...so you cannot find better ambassadors than these. From what I have understood, in Palestine there are approximately one thousand physicians who practice medicine and who are graduates of Romanian universities. But what I liked is that they too are divided by regions, one is Moldovan, one Transylvanian, one from Banat, the accents [each region in Romania has a different accent — ed.n] are still maintained, as I have noticed during their conversations. Their desire, communicated to Mr. Ambassador, to be able to visit Romania more often, to be able to send their children for training to Romania is important, as Romania has done a great deal in the eighties and at the beginning of the nineties with regard to educating people from other countries. There is nothing more beautiful than to spread one country's culture by educating citizens of another nationality, and Romania has managed to do that and it is important that we continue doing that.

AGERPRES: Could you tell us what personal thoughts have accompanied you during this visit, to the country you flew from at sixteen driven by desire to become a medical doctor and where you are proudly considered "Palestine's son", as the Palestinian Health Minister stated?

Raed Arafat: I left from here when I was sixteen years and a half. I have had the chance now to visit a little my brother and mother in Nablus and it was an emotional visit for me, even if it was a short one. It is shocking to see the development and the evolution.

AGERPRES: In a good way...

Raed Arafat: Yes. Because the Nablus I left is no longer the Nablus I have found. Today's city is totally different, it still needs a lot before it is well developed, however it has evolved a lot.

AGERPRES: Last time you were in Nablus happened five years ago?

Raed Arafat: It was five years ago, but it was a very short visit, and even since then it has radically changed.

AGERPRES: After graduation, you had the opportunity to go to other countries, the United States, France ... states where the things you have implemented in Romania were already operational. The fact that you chose to remain here was just a context or were you pushed by the desire to perfect the emergency system that is now praised both in the country and abroad?

Raed Arafat: At one point it was a context [decision], after which it was a decision. Initially I wanted to take a form of specialization in France, I did not get a visa because it happened during the Revolution, the changes in the Romanian system, after which I started the project with the intensive care crew that became the starting point of the SMURD and then I did not want to leave because I started something and I did not want to leave it.

AGERPRES: You are a man of action, formed in the rapid evaluation of the problems and their healing. What is the state of health of the Romanian medical system and what do you think that should be improved?

Raed Arafat: We have problems in it, it is not a perfect system. But if we compare it to what it was, Romania is doing much more now in medicine than ten years ago.

AGERPRES: I'm asking this because on the way to the Nablus Fire Department, while we were talking about the fact that there are countries where the people who are not medically insured have to pay for emergency medical aid, you told us we do not know to appreciate what we have ...

Raed Arafat: Yes. Because when you hear about the problems that exist in other countries, we are not talking here only about Palestine, we realize that Romania does quite a lot. There may have been mistakes that need to be corrected urgently in organizing systems and the access of patients to the healthcare system in Romania, but Romania has taken a few steps. What I reproach is that we have not built yet real, emergency, regional hospitals to solve complex problems. I know that this is a desire at Government level, that there is funding, but it has to be done urgently. There cannot be countries, as we have now seen in Palestine or Jordan, that have a strategy in the construction of hospitals — in Jordan, for example, after 40-50 years [hospitals] change, are renewed — and we do not do this. Until we do the same, unfortunately we will not stabilize this as the population expects. So we have a lot to do. But, however, we must admit that Romania has made important steps that are not to be neglected, especially in some areas such as emergency medicine, cardiac surgery, neonatology, in the treatment of cancer. But the part related to organization and infrastructure must be more concrete.AGERPRES(RO — author: Dana Purgaru, editor: Mariana Ionescu; EN — authors: Adina Panaitescu, Rodica State, Simona Iacob, Bogdan Gabaroi, editor: Maria Voican; online editor: Maria Voican)

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