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Access Restrictions in Pandemic Times: UNRWA Mobile Clinics provide vital care to Bedouin Palestine refugees during COVID-19
How do you survive a pandemic with access restrictions on your community? The Bedouin communities of Nabi Samwil and Rashaida have lived through this dilemma since the immergence of COVID-19 in March 2020. To better serve the Palestine refugees hardest hit by access restrictions in the West Bank, UNRWA launched its first mobile clinic initiative eight years ago. And in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Agency established three mobile health clinics - serving eleven remote communities - across the West Bank.
Eight-year-old Seida Ali, visited an UNRWA mobile clinic serving the Bedouin community of Arab al-Rashaida, just southeast of Bethlehem, to request medication for her infant brother. She bravely described her brother ‘Uqla’s symptoms to Dr. Hassan al-Dhiba, a mobile clinic doctor. Dr. Hassan examined Seida as well because she struggled with the same cough that she described her brother suffering from. Dr. Hasan notes that, “In addition to primary health care consultations, we provide care for diabetes, hypertension and prenatal care. We also provide mental health support services, as well as sanitizers and masks, as well as information on COVID-19.” After her examination, onsite pharmacist Jinan Halaiqa provided Sieda with the medication she needed.
“Seeing neighbours around the mobile clinic vehicle has become a familiar scene each Tuesday,” says Zahra Odeh al-Rashaida, a resident of the area. She actively advises the local community to visit the clinic for necessary checkups and medication. Zahra is also advocating for a permanent location for the mobile clinic with village council, since clinic staff remains at the mercy of weather conditions. The Arab al-Rashaida community do not immediate access to health care outside of UNRWA mobile clinics. This includes no ambulance service or pharmacies. In emergency cases, patients seek treatment at health care facilities in the town of Tuqu'.
Another story of access restriction is that of the Nabi Samwil community. Located northwest of Jerusalem, the village of 300 inhabitants, is isolated from the outside world by a strict permit regime enforced by Israel. Umm Iman Barakat, a Palestine refugee mother of four, regularly visits the UNRWA mobile clinic health care for her children.
“I have four children under 10 years-old. I struggle to get to the clinic in the neighbouring village when they need care. Public transport doesn’t service our village and the checkpoints make transportation even more difficult. I appreciate UNRWA for providing a mobile clinic to our village, it’s spared us the trouble of travel to other areas.”
Mithqal Barakat, an elderly refugee who suffers from chronic diseases, agrees, “Before the mobile clinic, I had to travel to neighboring villages for treatment, which wasn’t easy, because of my mobility issues. With the clinic, the process of receiving a medical examination, diagnosis and treatment has become accessible. We hope that this dedicated medical staff will continue to provide us with services,” he adds.
For elderly refugees with mobility issues like Mr. Barakat, the mobile clinic comes to them, in the comfort of their own homes. This is UNRWA policy was adopted during the pandemic to ensure that the most vulnerable receive primary health care.
With financial support from the occupied Palestinian territory Humanitarian Fund, the UNRWA mobile clinic project was launched in the West Bank on 1 January under the slogan: ‘Together we fight against COVID-19’. The project will continue through the end of April and will be extended if required funding is available.
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