Then and Now: Memories of a retired UNRWA doctor from Gaza

30 July 2019
Dr. Mahmoud Shaker, former deputy chief of the UNRWA health programme in Gaza. © 2019 UNRWA Photo by Khalil Adwan.

“Over the last thirty years of working with UNRWA, Palestine refugees’ dignity, needs, and quality of services were always our priority. To this end, there were always initiatives for empowering UNRWA health teams and reforming management,” says Dr. Mahmoud Shaker, a veteran of the UNRWA health programme. Dr. Shaker, who worked with the Agency for thirty years, began his tenure as a doctor in the UNRWA Rafah Health Centre. Health centres across Gaza are able to continue to provide primary health care to Palestine refugees thanks to generous donor partners like the Qatar Fund for Development.

Dr. Shaker’s own dedication to the provision of health care to Palestine refugees saw him rise through the ranks of management, until he became deputy chief of the UNRWA health programme in Gaza, before he retired in 2018.  He recalls how UNRWA services in the besieged Gaza Strip have continued to grow, mirroring the needs of Palestine refugees. “There were only eight health centres when I started working at UNRWA in 1989. Each operated in three shifts. In Rafah, there was one UNRWA health centre which provided primary health care. Now, there are 22 health centres in the Gaza strip, three of them in Rafah, which means that UNRWA is keeping up with the Palestine refugees’ needs.”

“I am very proud that I worked for UNRWA. As the largest provider of primary health care in Gaza, we all worked together to develop services based on strategic perspective which takes into consideration current, as well as future needs. I remember when I started working, there were only six doctors in Rafah, including the head health centre and doctors of the afternoon shifts, serving some 80,000 Palestine refugees! Three of us doctors would occupy one office, because no more space was available! Now twenty-six doctors in three health centres provide primary health care for more than 200,000 Palestine refugees in Rafah. Every doctor has an office space, which protects patience privacy and dignity,” Dr. Shaker adds.  

 “Where we are sitting now, in the Shaboura Health Centre, this used to serve as a sub-centre providing only maternity services. When you ask me how the health programme has developed, I will remind you of all the meetings our team held over the years, planning and writing proposals to donors to turn the sub-centre into a health centre and then rebuild it to what it is now. It’s one of the main health centres in the area, providing over 150,000 primary health consultations,” said Dr. Shaker.

UNRWA initiatives such as the family health team approach and UNRWA E-health system integrated a holistic and modern approach to health care provision.  “I believe that UNRWA could not reach this remarkable level of quality without consistent planning based on actual needs assessments. These initiatives were fuelled by a devotion for the preservation of the rights and dignity of Palestine refugees, through the support of generous donors,”” said Dr. Shaker.  

With thanks to donors like the Qatar Fund for Development (QFFD), UNRWA is able to provide primary health care for about 1.4 million registered refugees out of 1.9 million total populations in the Gaza strip. QFFD recently disbursed a second tranche of US$ 4 million as part of its multiyear agreement to the Agency. Signed in 2018, this multiyear contribution of US$ 16 million dollars, ensures the continued provision of core education, health care, relief and social services to Palestine refugees.