On the mend

29 April 2009

29 April 2009

Palestine refugees in Khan Eshieh Camp get better health services

28 April saw the opening of a new health centre in Khan Eshieh camp in Syria. The new health centre was the result of a US$ 311,500 donation from the United States Government to replace the previous dilapidated building. The new health centre will provide health services to approximately 19,000 Palestine refugees living in the Khan Eshieh Camp.

Dr Anwar Sarqawi, who works at the clinic, voiced his excitement on the way to the opening ceromony. "I am happy and excited as well because we are going to see not just a completely new professional Health Centre but also cheerful personnel who had faced a lot of problems at the former, temporary clinic," he said.

Khan Eshieh Camp is situated 27 kilometres south of Damascus, beside ancient ruins which had historically served as an overnight shelter for trade caravans. The old Khan itself provided shelter for the first refugees from Palestine in 1948. The camp was established in 1949. "This camp is really old and, as a former emergency shelter, it does not have a government hospital. The nearest clinic is about four kilometres away from the town, in Manshyeh. There is a private hospital available in the camp, but it is not accessible for the refugees due to high costs. UNRWA is the only service provider of free, quality, primary health care for our Palestine refugees," says Dr. Sarqawi.

The old Khan Eshieh Health Centre was constructed in the early fifties and provided health services to 6,000 Palestine refugee patients. The former clinic could not cover the increasing health needs of a growing refugee population, which was estimated in December 2008 as 19,059. Health services in the camp are were longer sufficient to meet the community‘s need. "We had more than 200 patients per day in a very old, crowded building. There was a lack of appropriate waiting rooms for people, no separate place for children and disabled persons, everybody was waiting in the same crowd," explained Nurse Maria Musleh – a Palestine refugee from Bisan who has been working at the health centre for 21 years.

All of the 11 UNRWA medical staff members working in Khan Eshieh suffered from a heavy workload, a shortage of equipment and a lack of space. "You should see my former cabinet and old dentist‘s chair. I was working in a small room without a window, but I could not give up. I always believed that it‘s temporary and it would change one day because my patients deserve a good treatment," says Dr. Hisham Sa‘ad - smiling in front of his new dentist’s chair.

"Now my office looks like a palace. I have a computer, special bookcases and the most important, I have got more space. In the former, extremely small room I was surrounded by 4,300 files. It was difficult, but when you know the medical database of vulnerable children and elderly persons, you never give up your job, "says young Clerk Alaa al-Sadi from Yarmouk Camp in Damascus.

The goal of UNRWA‘s Health Programme is to protect and preserve the health status of the registered Palestine refugees. The Agency‘s priority is to expand various services such as maternal health, family planning and mental health programmes with the aim of reducing morbidity among the Palestine community.

Dr. Wael Aydi, a medical officer at the health centre explained, "We are trying to upgrade our services, but as you know the main obstacle is chronic under-funding related to recent tragic developments like the war in the Gaza Strip. Therefore we are very grateful to people in the United States for their generous donation. Now we can organize better maternal and child health services which are at the core of our actions."

Text and photos by Alexander Binek

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