In spite of the ongoing geopolitical conflicts in the Middle East, the past 18 years have left MECC with a sense of hope and optimism for better medical and nursing education and improved services for cancer patients at the primary, secondary and tertiary levels, including both curable treatments and palliative care. The ongoing trajectory of success of the regional palliative care programs introduced by MECC proves that despite many challenges, health initiatives in conflict-laden regions can bring health professionals together in cross-border collaborations to build vitally needed new services, through mutual respect, trust and understanding for the benefit of all involved. If we keep our focus on the patient and the family before us, and help them come to an understanding of the situation and identify the priorities that are meaningful for them, we will be true to the principles of palliative care. Further steps to overcome conflicts in rendering palliative care require attention to a range of issues including trust, social cohesion, sensitivities of culture, and accountability to communities. Finally, and importantly, is the need to stimulate dialogue among the stakeholders, including the parties to the regional conflicts, professionals, health policymakers, and communities.
The present experience in the Middle East has shown that it is possible to bring together Arabs and Israelis, and Turks and Cypriots, to promote a common goal related to cancer palliation, even under very difficult circumstances. The MECC experience illuminates four essential ingredients that are needed in order to establish and sustain successful cooperation: 1) A focus on common health needs, i.e., palliative care to the cancer patient with practical outcomes; 2) A constructive and unbiased third-party broker; 3) A critical mass of “bridge-builders” in the region who are prepared to get involved; and 4) A sustained source of funding. The medical profession thus combats geopolitical conflict in the Middle East with a powerful venue for establishing cross-border collaborations through trust, goodwill and patience. The MECC model demonstrates a direction for health professionals in promoting peace through cancer palliation.