JERUSALEM, Friday, June 11, 2021 (WAFA) - From the first months of the global COVID-19 pandemic, UNRWA mobile clinic doctor, Khaled Ma’touq, recalls the fear, confusion and panic that spread through the Palestine refugee community. UNRWA worked quickly to respond to new needs and provide services under extraordinarily difficult circumstances. "UNRWA provided the best health services in the West Bank as a whole,” says Dr. Ma’touq. “We were - and are - committed to strict prevention measures even after our staff was vaccinated.”
These prevention measures and the continued provision of health services to Palestine refugees would not have been so successful without the generous support provided by the European Union (EU) to UNRWA during the first months of the COVID-19 outbreak. Steadfast EU support helped the Agency implement the emergency plan, which aimed to deliver services to all 19 Palestine refugee camps in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem.
Dr. Maatouk describes his experience during the past 15 months as risky and scary. His job requires him to move between several different clinics on daily basis and have steady contact with medical staff and sick patients, which increases his risk of exposure to COVID-19. "I’ve been committed, since the first month of the pandemic, to implementing the preventive measures. I’ve never been complacent about wearing a mask or protective clothing. I have a COVID-19 test each time I hear that a patient I had contact with tested positive for the virus. I also consider myself lucky to have not contracted the virus, thanks to my vigilance, and the preventive equipment provided by the EU, which facilitated our work as medical teams, and enabled us to provide our services to refugees with high efficiency,” Dr. Ma’touq adds.
UNRWA staff working in medical labs are among the medical staff most vulnerable to infection, as their work requires direct physical contact with patients. Rizek Diab, Head of the UNRWA Al Amari Health Centre laboratory, says that with the onset of the pandemic, no one expected that the virus would develop and spread so rapidly, adding, “As medical teams, we deal with dozens of patients every day and we don’t know who’s infected and who’s not, especially since we deal with patients without any form of distancing. We’re constantly anxious, whether at work or when we leave our homes, for fear of transmitting the virus to our family members."
PPE is a huge relief for staff in medical labs to ensure the continued provision of medical services to refugees, as Rizk says, “Thanks to EU aid, we were able to protect ourselves from the risk of contracting the virus. We were provided with our daily share of protective gear, sterilizers, masks and gloves every day. This helped us perform our tasks efficiently.”
In July 2020, the EU pledged EUR 4 million to UNRWA, with EUR 1 million allocated to the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, under the “Enhancing UNRWA preparedness and responsiveness to COVID-19 in the Gaza Strip and West Bank” initiative. This reliable EU support helped to ensure the continuation of primary health care provided to Palestine refugees, provided support to UNRWA in combating the spread of COVID-19 as well as protecting UNRWA health care staff while they carry out their duties.
During the pandemic, 43 UNRWA clinics, as well as the UNRWA Qalqilya Hospital, continued to provide services to 858,000 refugees in an efficient and uninterrupted manner, both within clinics and remotely.
Thanks to EU funding, UNRWA was able to employ 50 additional temporary doctors to replace medical staff who were either in quarantine or infected with COVID-19. This greatly contributed to the continuation of service provision to Palestine refugees. Temporary environmental health labourers -appointed in all camps - were able to focus on ensuring the thorough sanitation of UNRWA refugee camps and installations, as well as temporary drivers to deliver medicines, food parcels and sterilizers to refugee families who were infected with the virus.
“On behalf of the Agency, I thank the European Union for its generous support to UNRWA including this particular contribution which has helped UNRWA enhance preparedness and responsiveness to COVID-19 in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. We are deeply grateful to the EU for its steadfast support throughout the decades and the predictability of its funding for both core and emergency operations,” said Marc Lassouaoui, UNRWA Acting Director for Partnerships.
UNRWA is the main provider of primary health care to Palestine refugees in the occupied Palestinian territory. During the COVID-19 pandemic, UNRWA contributed to enhancing the provision of basic health services to remote communities and supporting their access to health care as a basic human right.