June 25, 2015, 9:00 am - March 4, 2024, 2:05 pm


The Mayflower Renaissance Hotel
1127 Connecticut Ave, NW
Washington, District of Columbia 20036 (Map)

Armed conflicts are creating urgent, complex needs in emergency medicine, surgery, and rehabilitation. Mass forced movements of people are overstretching the health services available to those displaced and to other citizens of the affected countries. Political disruptions to routine services have put mental health and other long-term care needs under stress.

The Middle East Institute convened a full-day conference of senior policy-makers and practitioners to examine the deepening health care crisis of displaced populations in Middle Eastern countries and identify ways to address their needs and challenges.

The conference featured experts from the region and front lines of the crisis, including health practitioners, social researchers, and leaders of national government and multilateral agencies.The discussions in the conference, available to review in video links and podcasts on this event page, should energize and inform efforts by donor governments and other contributors in both emergency response and in aiding the rebuilding of health systems.

The conference, at the Mayflower Renaissance Hotel on Thursday, June 25th, 2015, was free and open to the public.

Conference Agenda

Welcome Remarks

Keynote Address

PANEL 1: Health Needs of Populations Displaced by Conflict and Political Upheaval [Podcast] [Transcript]
Documenting the scale of the needs and the obstacles to providing care to populations displaced or isolated by conflict in Syria, Iraq, Libya, Yemen, and in the countries hosting refugees.

  • Andrew Harper UN High Commissioner for Refugees' Representative to the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan
  • Reida El Oakley Minister of Health, Ministry of Health, Libya (via skype)
  • Leonard Rubenstein Director, Program on Human Rights, Health, and Conflict, Center for Public Health and Human Rights, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health
  • Zaher Sahloul President, Syrian American Medical Society
  • Elizabeth Ferris (Moderator)  Co-Director, Brookings-LSE Project on Internal Displacement and Senior Fellow, Foreign Policy, The Brookings Institution

PANEL 2: Caring for the Most Vulnerable Populations [Podcast] [Transcript]
Examining the conditions of populations made particularly vulnerable as a result of the conflict, including women, children and those suffering mental and psychosocial distress.

  • Laila Bugaighis OBGYN, Former Chief Executive Officer and Deputy Director General, Benghazi Medical Center
  • Rabih El Chammay Psychiatrist and Head of Mental Health Program, Ministry of Health, Lebanon 
  • Nicole Shampaine Director, Office of Assistance for Asia & the Near East, Department of State's Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration 
  • Inka Weissbecker Global Mental Health and Psychosocial Advisor, International Medical Corps
  • Michael Klosson (Moderator) Vice President, Policy and Humanitarian Response, Save the Children 

Keynote Luncheon [Podcast] [Transcript]

  • Amb. Robert Ford Former U.S. Ambassador to Syria and to Algeria; Middle East Institute Senior Fellow

PANEL 3: Going forward: Delivering Health Care in the Context of Conflict [Podcast] [Transcript]
Proposing policy strategies and best practices for moving forward for multilateral organizations, governments, and aid organizations seeking to deliver health care and assistance. 

  • Ala Alwan Regional Director of the Eastern Mediterranean, World Health Organization
  • Enis Baris Sector Manager for Health, Nutrition and Population, Middle East and North Africa, World Bank Group
  • Thomas Staal Acting Assistant Administrator, US Agency for International Development 
  • Rabih Torbay Senior Vice President of International Operations, International Medical Corps 
  • Greg Myre (Moderator) International Editor,; Middle East Institute scholar

Speaker Biographies

Ala Alwan
Regional Director of the Eastern Mediterranean, World Health Organization
Dr. Ala Alwan was appointed by the World Health Organization’s (WHO) executive board to act as regional director for the Eastern Mediterranean for a five year term beginning in 2012. Dr. Alwan has worked with the WHO for over 23 years, previously serving as the assistant director-general for noncommunicable diseases and mental health and as the representative of the director-general and assistant director-general for health action in crises. His WHO work focuses on health system development and disease prevention and has included appointments in Oman, Jordan, and his home county of Iraq. From 2003-2005, Dr. Alwan served as the minister of health and minister of education in the Iraqi government. He received his degree in medicine from the University of Alexandria and obtained postgraduate training in the United Kingdom. Dr. Alwan was a professor and the dean of the faculty of medicine at Mustansiriya University in Baghdad. 

Enis Bariş
Sector Manager for Health, Nutrition and Population, Middle East and North Africa, World Bank Group
Enis Barış is the practice manager for the health, nutrition and population global practice for the regions of Middle East and North Africa, the Caribbean and Haiti at the World Bank. Mr Bariş is a physician with graduate degrees in public health and epidemiology and a wide range of experience in the fields of public health and health system development in Europe, East Asia, Middle East and North Africa, Sub Saharan Africa and Latin America. Previously, he was sector manager in the Middle East and North Africa Region of the World Bank, a position he returned to after serving as director of the division of country health systems at the European Regional Office of the World Health Organization. Prior to joining the World Bank in 1999, Mr. Bariş was a senior scientific advisor at the International Development Research Centre of Canada. 

Laila Bugaighis
OBGYN, Former Chief Executive Officer and Deputy Director General, Benghazi Medical Center
Laila Bugaighis served as the CEO and deputy director general of the Benghazi Medical Center, one of Libya’s two largest tertiary healthcare centers. Dr. Bugaighis is an obstetrician and gynecologist and an activist for women's empowerment, women's health, and maternal and reproductive rights. She is the founder of the National Protection Against Violence Committee in Libya, which aims to implement a comprehensive gender-based violence prevention program in Libya. Dr. Bugaighis is co-founder of Al Tawafuk Al Watani, a political NGO working to raise awareness about democracy, inclusivity, social justice, human rights and cultural reform. As a member of the Scientific Committee for Reproductive Health of Libya she has advocated for and lead policy initiatives to reduce maternal mortality.

Amb. Wendy Chamberlin
President, The Middle East Institute
Ambassador Wendy Chamberlin has been president of the Middle East Institute since 2007. Previously, as deputy high commissioner for refugees from 2004 to 2007, she supervised the administration of the U.N. humanitarian organization. A 29-year veteran of the U.S. Foreign Service, she was ambassador to Pakistan from 2001 to 2002, when she played a key role in securing Pakistan’s cooperation in the U.S.-led campaign against al-Qaeda in Afghanistan in the wake of the terrorist attacks against the U.S. on September 11.


Rabih El Chammay
Psychiatrist and Head of Mental Health Program, Ministry of Health, Lebanon 
Dr. Rabih El Chammay is the head of Lebanon’s first national mental health program. His current work is focused on reforming the Lebanese mental health system by creating a comprehensive national mental health program by 2025.  For the last decade, he has worked on the mental health of refugees and on the creation of mental health programs throughout the Middle East through direct service and policy development. He consults on mental health for UN agencies such as WHO, UNHCR, and UNICEF. He currently serves on the faculty of medicine at the Saint Joseph University in Beirut. Dr. El Chammay holds a degree in international health policy and service from Lisbon NOVA University.

Andrew Harper
UN High Commissioner for Refugees' Representative to the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan
Andrew Harper has been responsible for leading and coordinating the international refugee response to the Syrian crisis in Jordan as representative of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) for the last three years. The operation has established the Zaatari and Azraq refugee camps and ensured that over 600,000 Syrian refugees who have fled to the safety of Jordan in the last four years are provided with assistance and protection. Prior to coming to Jordan, Mr. Harper was head of desk for UNHCR headquarters in Geneva, where he covered the Iraq situation for six years and served as the emergency focal point for the Middle East and North Africa region for the Libyan crisis in 2011. He has served with the UN Office for the Coordination for Humanitarian Affairs as head of office in Sumatra following the 2004 tsunami and as the chief of staff for the UN Recovery Coordinator for Aceh. His prior deployments with the UNHCR include West Timor, Ukraine/Crimea, Albania/Kosovo, Central Asia and Iran. 

Elizabeth Ferris  
Co-Director, Brookings-LSE Project on Internal Displacement and Senior Fellow, Foreign Policy, The Brookings Institution
Elizabeth Ferris is a senior foreign policy fellow at the Brookings Institution and the co-director of the Brookings-LSE Project on Internal Displacement. Since joining Brookings in November 2006, Ms. Ferris’ work has encompassed a wide range of issues, including internal displacement, humanitarian action, and natural disasters. Previously, she spent 20 years working in the field of humanitarian assistance, most recently at the World Council of Churches in Geneva, Switzerland, where she managed the council’s work in humanitarian response and long-term development. Ms. Ferris has also served as the director of the Church World Service’s Immigration and Refugee Program, and as research director at the Life and Peace Institute in Uppsala, Sweden. Her recent book, The Politics of Protection: The Limits of Humanitarian Action, was published in 2011. 

Amb. Robert Ford
Senior Fellow, The Middle East Institute 
Robert Ford is a senior fellow at MEI and is engaged in MEI’s Track II dialogues initiative. He served for 30 years in the State Department and Peace Corps, finishing his career as the U.S. ambassador to Syria from 2011 to 2014. He previously served as U.S. ambassador to Algeria (2006-2008), deputy ambassador in Iraq (2008-2010), senior political advisor to the U.S. ambassador to Iraq (2004-2006), and deputy chief of mission in Bahrain (2001-2003). Ambassador Ford’s earlier postings were in Egypt, Turkey, Cameroon, and in Algeria during its civil war. He was awarded the Presidential Honor award for his leadership of the American embassy in Damascus, and the Secretary of State’s Distinguished Service Award for his work on Syria, which is the State Department's highest award. In 2012, he received the annual Profile in Courage award from Boston’s John F. Kennedy Library for his defense of human rights in Syria. He currently teaches at Johns Hopkins University.

Michael Klosson
Vice President, Policy and Humanitarian Response, Save the Children
Michael Klosson joined Save the Children in 2007, after a career as a Foreign Service officer.  Mr. Klosson oversees Save the Children’s public policy and advocacy work with the U.S. government and foreign governments as well as the organization’s global emergency response work. His policy portfolio spans health, education, food security, aid effectiveness, and post-2015 development goals. He has represented Save the Children at various international conferences including G20 and G8 summits. Mr. Klosson helped steer the humanitarian responses in Haiti, Pakistan, and Syria, and is spearheading efforts to enhance the agency’s emergency response capacity. Previously, he served in the Foreign Service as ambassador to Cyprus, consul general in Hong Kong and Macau, and deputy chief of mission at several U.S. embassies. His Washington assignments include serving as deputy assistant secretary of state for legislative affairs and special assistant to the secretary of state. Mr. Klosson has taught at Hamilton College and the Industrial College of the Armed Forces. 

Greg Myre
International Editor,, Middle East Institute scholar
Greg Myre is the international editor for digital news at NPR. Previously, he was a foreign correspondent from 1987 to 2007 with The New York Times and the Associated Press and spent more than a decade based in the Middle East. He has covered major events throughout the region, including the first Gulf War in 1991, the rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan, Pakistan's political turmoil, Iraq under Saddam Hussein, and America's wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He was based in Jerusalem from 1999 to 2007, covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This last assignment was also the basis for the 2011 book he co-authored with his wife Jennifer Griffin, called This Burning Land: Lessons from the Front Lines of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict


Reida El Oakley
Minister of Health, Ministry of Health, Libya
Reida El Oakley is Libya's minister of health. He has been active in the health ministry since early 2011, when he was named head of international cooperation. He has also served as Libya's representative at the World Health Organization, where he worked on issues of global health, human rights, and international humanitarian law. Dr. El Oakley has served as a consulting cardiac surgeon for the ministry of defense of Saudi Arabia. Additionally, Dr. El Oakley is an adjunct professor at the University of Singapore, and professor at the Benghazi Medical Center, where he was the head of cardiac services from 2010-2012.


Amb. Anne W. Patterson
Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs
Ambassador Anne W. Patterson is a career diplomat and the current assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs. Prior to returning to Washington, Amb. Patterson served as ambassador to Egypt (2011-2013) and ambassador to Pakistan (2007-2010). She has served in the State Department as assistant secretary of state for international narcotics and law enforcement affairs, deputy permanent representative at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations, and the Department’s deputy inspector general. She has also served as ambassador to Colombia (2000-2003) and ambassador to El Salvador (1997-2000).  She was awarded the Secretary of State’s Distinguished Service Award in 2008 and 2010 and the Ryan Crocker Award for Expeditionary Diplomacy in 2010, and she was named one of Foreign Policy magazine’s Top 100 Global Thinkers in 2011.

Leonard Rubenstein
Director, Program on Human Rights, Health, and Conflict, Center for Public Health and Human Rights, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health
Leonard  Rubenstein is a senior scholar and director of the program in human rights, health, and conflict at the Center for Human Rights and Public Health at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. He also serves as a core faculty member at the Berman Institute of Bioethics at Johns Hopkins University.  Previously, Mr. Rubenstein was a Jennings Randolph senior fellow at the United States Institute of Peace, and for a decade before that, he was the executive director and president of Physicians for Human Rights. He founded and chairs the Safeguarding Health in Conflict Coalition, a group that seeks to reduce interference with health workers, patients, and facilities in conflict zones. Mr. Rubenstein is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and the board of directors of the Global Health Council and the International Federation of Health and Human Rights Organizations. 

Zaher Sahloul
President, Syrian American Medical Society
Dr. Zaher Sahloul is the president of the Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS), one of the leading medical relief organizations responding to healthcare needs in Syria during the ongoing humanitarian crisis. Since the beginning of the Syrian crisis more than 4 years ago, SAMS has been supporting doctors, nurses and hospitals inside Syria, providing medical and psychological care to Syrian refugees in Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey, and delivering over $40 million in medical relief to conflict-affected areas. Dr. Sahloul trains medical relief workers in disaster management, medical practice in war zones, and service provision with limited resources. He speaks on public health issues related to the Syrian crisis on Capitol Hill, at the White House, and in national media. He co-founded the American Relief Coalition for Syria, a coalition of 22 relief organizations providing humanitarian aid to Syrians. Dr. Sahloul graduated from Damascus University in 1988 and received his medical training at University of Illinois, Chicago. He serves on the Illinois State Board of Health.

Nicole Shampaine
Director, Office of Assistance for Asia & the Near East, Department of State's Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration 
Nicole Shampaine is a career foreign service officer with the U.S. Department of State.  She currently serves as the director of the office of assistance for Asia & the Near East in the Department of State’s Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration.  Her previous assignments include three years as the director of the Office of Egypt and Levant Affairs in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs; political counselor at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad; deputy director of the Office of Israel and Palestinian Affairs; and director for the Middle East and South East Asia in the NSC Counter-terrorism Directorate.  Nicole was an observer in the Multinational Forces and Observers (MFO) mission in the Sinai desert and served in Istanbul and Tel Aviv.  

Thomas Staal
Acting Assistant Administrator, Democracy, Conflict, and Humanitarian Assistance, U.S. Agency for International Development
Thomas Staal has worked for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) since1988. He began his career as an emergency program officer in Sudan and later served in the USAID regional office in Kenya, managing food aid and project development. From 1996 to 2002 he worked in the West Bank and Gaza program, providing assistance to the Palestinians through water supply projects and local community development.  He also served as regional representative for Southern Iraq, overseeing all USAID projects in that part of the country, as deputy director of the Food for Peace Office in Washington, and as director of the Iraq Reconstruction Office. Mr. Staal has been the USAID mission director to Lebanon, Ethiopia and Iraq. He has been acting assistant administrator since January 2014 and prior to that was the senior deputy assistant administrator in the Bureau for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance. Before joining USAID, Mr. Staal worked for World Vision International as the Sudan country representative and for Saudi ARAMCO in the company’s government relations department. 

Rabih Torbay
Senior Vice President of International Operations, International Medical Corps 
Rabih Torbay oversees IMC’s global programs, staff, and volunteers in over 35 countries. Mr. Torbay supervised the expansion of IMCs’ humanitarian and development programs into some of the world’s most at-risk places, including Iraq, Lebanon, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Libya, and Syria. Mr. Torbay began his career at IMC by leading the emergency regional response team in Pakistan and Afghanistan following the September 11th terrorist attacks.  In 2003, he led IMC into Iraq as the first NGO to enter the country and served directly in Iraq for seven months, setting up a comprehensive relief and development initiative. After war broke out in Lebanon, Mr. Torbay organized IMCs’ emergency relief efforts to residents of the southern part of the country who had been trapped during the conflict. Since 2011, he has been overseeing IMC’s response to the crisis in Syria and managing relief services for Syrian refugees. Concurrently, he supervises the organization’s emergency response in the Central African Republic and South Sudan after the recent outbreaks of violence in both countries, oversees Ebola response in Sierra Leone and Liberia, and is conducting emergency interventions in Nepal after the devastating earthquake.

Inka Weissbecker
Global Mental Health and Psychosocial Advisor, International Medical Corps
Dr. Inka Weissbecker is the global mental health and psychosocial advisor for  IMC. In this role, she provides remote and on-site oversight and support to IMC partner governments to assess, design, and evaluate mental health and psychosocial programs, including integrated health and nutrition projects in over 20 countries. She has completed field assignments in Libya, Jordan, Lebanon, Gaza, Turkey, Syria, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, among others. Dr. Weissbecker has been a contributor to several global guidelines and working groups concerning psychosocial health and has served as an NGO representative to the United Nations. She has a PhD in clinical psychology specializing in health and public sector psychology as well as an MPH in global health and population studies from the Harvard School of Public Health.