New Mobile Clinic in Hebron helps tackle COVID-19 surge

The epicentre of the West Bank’s ongoing spike in COVID-19 (coronavirus) cases is the Hebron governorate, accounting for 82% of all confirmed active cases. The World Health Organization has confirmed 11,800 cases of COVID-19 in the West Bank, almost four times higher than at the beginning of the month (3,315 cases on 2 July). Hebron has been the hardest hit, with hundreds of infections recorded each day and sadly the highest number of deaths.

Amid this crisis, Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP) has started a new partnership with the Palestinian Medical Relief Society (PMRS) to provide a mobile clinic for marginalised communities in Area C of the Hebron governorate.

“The mobile clinic serves as a lifeline to at least 2,736 people living in isolated communities in Area C of Hebron, where there are no permanent healthcare facilities as the Palestinian Authority is not allowed to build here and there is no regular public transport to take residents to towns and cities to access healthcare,” the supervisor of the mobile clinic, Dr. Suhail Aqabna, told MAP. 

Even before the outbreak of COVID-19, these communities were extremely isolated and marginalised and were the target of Israeli occupation policies including home demolitions and destruction of basic infrastructure, settler violence and land confiscation. With extremely limited resources, high levels of poverty and food insecurity, these communities are extremely vulnerable to the global coronavirus pandemic.

A current part of the mobile clinic’s work is providing community members with masks and disinfectants as well as awareness raising sessions on COVID-19 and the importance of preventative measures to restrict further transmission. “During the first weeks of our visits, many people thought of COVID-19 as a myth, and did not take the precautionary measures, such as social distancing, seriously. However, we now see a change as many people are asking us to provide them with hand sanitising gel and masks”, the clinic’s rehabilitation specialist explained. “At the moment we are following up -through home visits- including to  several people with disabilities who have chronic diseases. We are the only medical provider able to reach these communities due to the spike of cases in coronavirus”, he added.

The mobile clinic consists of a team of seven, a general practitioner, lab technician, gynecologist, two health workers, a driver and a rehabilitation specialist. They work six days a week. The communities they visit are Ghwain Alfoqa, Birin, Arab Alfreijat, Shweika, Zanuta, Anab Alkabeer and Wadi ar Reem.

“We start our day at 7am to prepare the medications, essential kits and our Personal Protective Equipment, including face masks and gowns. When we reach the community, we use one of the existing facilities, so we have to sterilise it and prepare it for patients. Around 9am we announce to the community that we are open. We try our best to maintain social distancing and avoid long queues. We usually see 20-25 patients a day. All patients with complaints will be examined by the general practitioner and / or the women’s health doctor. The latter follows up with all pregnant women and neonates. Patients are supplied with essential medicines if needed. The lab technician carries out all the needed blood tests. There is an increased need for blood tests now, as all Ministry of Health labs are closed due to the pandemic. In addition, people with chronic diseases, who are at high risk of COVID-19, are asked not to come to the clinic, and we follow up with them through home visits,” the PMRS mobile clinic health worker outlined.

The clinic’s team are working in extremely challenging conditions, delivering essential healthcare in extreme heat at the epicentre of the West Bank’s COVID-19 outbreak, whilst wearing gowns and face masks. Their dedication and hard work is helping to ensure marginalised communities in Area C of the Hebron governate are not forgotten during this global pandemic and have access to the vital healthcare services they desperately need.

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