When I see a mobile clinic, I feel at ease: UNRWA mobile health clinics at the service of displaced refugees

28 November 2018
An UNRWA mobile health clinic doctor takes examines a patient. © 2018 UNRWA photo by Fernande Van Tets

At 9:00 am an UNRWA mobile health clinic arrives in Sahnaya, an area just south of Damascus. In a flurry of activity, boxes of equipment and supplies are unloaded and the van is transformed into a fully equipped health centre, ready to receive patients. Displaced Palestine refugee women carrying babies in carefully wrapped bundles, small children, and groups of elderly people make their way to the clinic to see a doctor. “Whenever I see a mobile clinic, I feel at ease,” says Omran Qsem Barghout, who brought his 70 year-old mother in for a check-up. UNRWA mobile health clinics provide weekly service to al-Sweidaa, Yalda, al-Ramadan refugee camp, and the Sahnaya area in rural Damascus.

Access to basic health care is one of the biggest challenges faced by displaced refugees and those in areas affected by the ongoing conflict in Syria. The hostilities and displacement suffered by thousands of Palestine refugees have led to a breakdown in the health system. UNRWA has adjusted its service delivery to operate in this challenging operating environment. The Agency is currently compensating for the loss of nine of its 23 health centres. The deployment mobile clinics enables UNRWA to provide quality primary health services to refugees in areas where there are no medical facilities or where access is restricted.

A large influx of Palestine refugees have come to the Sahnaya area in recent years. Many of them were displaced from Yarmouk refugee camp. Since UNRWA did not have a medical facility in the area, mobile health clinics allow the Agency to provide much needed services to the growing population of displaced Palestine refugees.  

Omran Qsem Barghout, is from Daraya and who now lives in Sahnaya. “The mobile health unit provides me with safe and dignified medical care. I bring my 70 year-old mother here for treatment. We receive health care and medicine free of charge,” says Barghout.

“Since the start of the crisis there has been a sharp increase in the number of Palestine refugees reliant on UNRWA health services,” says Dr. Tayseer Sabbagh, Chief of the Field Health Programme. “The harsh conditions of displacement and the economic hardship many refugees face make for greater consumption of free medical services offered by UNRWA,”he noted. Last year, the Agency provided more than 800,000 medical consultations in Syria.

The services offered by mobile health clinics are identical to those delivered in UNRWA health centres. Ranging from daily preventive and curative services to mother-and-child health care and vaccinations, the Agency provides many vital services. On average, UNRWA mobile health clinics provide over 3,500 medical consultations per month.

Mobile health clinics allow for UNRWA to serve the Palestine refugee community where they are. This saves them the cost of transportation to a brick-and-mortar UNRWA facility; a cost burden many are unable to bear. “This is a key advantage,” highlights  Um Omran, an UNRWA patient. “It saved me having to pay for transport fees to see a doctor downtown. At a time when displaced refugees like me can hardly afford to cover the high rental cost of our apartments, this was very helpful,” she said. “The ongoing conflict has diminished access to key medications and medical equipment. This mobile health unit meets the needs of the elderly in the area as well as everyone else.” 

Through generous contribution of donors like the Government of Japan, UNRWA mobile health clinics are able to provide basic healthcare and medicine, improving the quality of life of displaced Palestine refugees.