Ensuring sight saving surgeries can continue in Palestine amid the pandemic

Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP) is supporting St John’s Eye Hospital, the largest provider of eye care in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt), to deliver sight saving surgeries amid the pandemic, funded by the occupied Palestinian territory Humanitarian Fund (oPt HF). Since the outbreak of COVID-19, access to essential eye care has been extremely difficult for patients in the oPt, with lockdowns further restricting patients’ freedom of movement and precious resources and hospital capacity diverted to the COVID-19 response. This has placed thousands of Palestinians at risk of losing their sight.

In the West Bank, the Palestinian Ministry of Health has stopped all eye care services, closing ophthalmic clinics and converting the Hugo Chavez Eye Hospital into a COVID-19 quarantine and treatment center. Due to severe financial constraints, the Ministry of Health has been unable to refer patients in urgent need of eye care to other health care providers, including St John’s Eye Hospital.

There has also seen a significant decrease in the number of patients at the St John’s Eye Hospital in East Jerusalem and its other centres in the West Bank and Gaza. The first lockdown saw over 1,200 major sight saving surgeries cancelled and thousands of patients miss eye examination and treatment appointments.

Responding to these growing needs, MAP, with the funding from the oPt HF, is implementing an emergency project to help St John’s Eye Hospital to provide essential cataract surgeries to Palestinian patients at high risk of avoidable blindness. The surgeries will be prioritised for vulnerable patients with severe visual impairments, including older Palestinians, women, people with disabilities and children, who have no other option for treatment. These patients will be referred to St John’s Eye Hospital by the Ministry of Health and UNRWA, the UN agency responsible for humanitarian support to Palestinian refugees.

Discussing the new project, Aisha Mansour, MAP’s Director in the West Bank, reflected:

“The health impacts of the pandemic cannot be measured in direct infections and deaths from COVID-19 alone. The diversion of healthcare resources also means many people are suffering avoidable ill-health – including sight loss – due to the diversion of limited healthcare resources. We are pleased to be able to implement this vital project that will help ensure the continued functioning of essential eye care services in Palestine, and prevent some of the most vulnerable people from losing their sight.”

With sincere thanks to the oPt HF and its donors, MAP is delighted to be working in partnership with St John’s Eye Hospital and looks forward to updating supporters on the sight saving surgeries performed by the team at St John’s.  

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