Marking one year of MAP’s COVID-19 emergency response in Palestine and Lebanon

This month marks one year since the first cases of COVID-19 were identified in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt) and Lebanon. Since this unprecedented global crisis began, Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP)’s teams in Lebanon, the West Bank and Gaza have worked tirelessly to ensure local healthcare providers have the resources they need to fight COVID-19, while also helping ensure the continuity of other essential health services and programmes.

Below, MAP’s Director of Programmes Dr Andy Ferguson describes the work we have been doing to save lives amid the pandemic thanks to the generous support of individuals like you:

In the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt) and Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon, the threat of COVID-19 has presented monumental challenges due to overcrowding, inadequate clean water and hygiene facilities and vulnerable populations.

Decades of perpetual occupation, displacement and funding limitations left the health systems Palestinians rely on in the West Bank, Gaza and refugee camps of Lebanon woefully unprepared for the global COVID-19 emergency. Since the beginning of the crisis, overcrowding, endemic poverty, inadequate clean water and hygiene facilities, and the high prevalence of noncommunicable diseases have frustrated essential infection control measures and exacerbated the humanitarian impacts of the pandemic.

MAP’s COVID-19 emergency response has focused on supporting the major providers of quarantine and hospital services in our areas of operation, strengthening their response to the crisis: the Ministry of Health in the West Bank and Gaza; the network of NGO-managed hospitals in East Jerusalem; and the network of Palestinian Red Crescent Society (PRCS) hospitals in Lebanon. There have been different phases to our response as the pandemic has evolved in the region:

1. Slowing the rate of infections

Initially we focused on the procurement of hygiene kits, antiseptics, disinfectants and personal protective equipment (PPE) for frontline health workers, aiming to control transmission of the virus and protect those health workers and the patients they cared for. This remains a hugely important component of the COVID-19 response but, as transmission increased and health workers became more protected through natural infection and, more recently, vaccination, we expanded our focus.

2. Procuring essential medical supplies

We then procured large volumes of the essential drugs and consumables needed to care for patients with severe COVID-19 disease, including antibiotics, steroids, fluids, clot prevention/treatment drugs, sedatives and anaesthetic agents. We continue to work closely with the World Health Organization (WHO) and health providers to identify and procure the items most urgently needed, but in Gaza in particular this is a perpetual battle as so many vital items are always at ‘zero-stock’, meaning less than one month’s supply is available in the central warehouses.

3. Preventing the need for mechanical ventilation

Globally the prognosis for those COVID-19 patients requiring mechanical ventilation is very poor, and in oPt the mortality for these cases has approached 100% because of the many limitations within the health system highlighted above. We have tried to optimise the care provided for hospitalised patients through training workshops for key medical and nursing staff, delivered by respiratory and critical care specialists from the United Kingdom. We have also provided alternative care pathways for patients struggling to breathe through the procurement of large numbers of Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) devices and breathing circuits. These machines enable very ill patients to receive and tolerate high flow oxygen and hopefully avoid the need for mechanical ventilation.

4. Increasing oxygen generation capacity in hospitals

The one intervention that all hospitalised COVID-19 patients require is oxygen, and the sicker they get the more oxygen they need. The problem is that having even just a small number of patients on high-flow oxygen therapy place huge demands on a hospital’s capacity to generate and deliver that oxygen. This has become a critical factor in many countries, including oPt. We have responded to this need by procuring two oxygen generators for the European hospital, Gaza, doubling its oxygen capacity. We hope to make a similar contribution in the West Bank very soon.      

All of this has been possible only through the kind support of people like you. Though the pandemic has brought untold suffering around the world, you have helped avert total humanitarian collapse among Palestinian communities.

But our COVID-19 response is far from over. A year since the crisis began, Lebanon and the West Bank are experiencing a surge in cases associated with the arrival of COVID-19 variants from the United Kingdom and South Africa, placing intolerable pressure on those systems and critical care services in particular. Health facilities lack the infrastructure, skilled workforce, essential equipment, drugs and supplies needed to manage the pandemic long-term, while the vaccination programmes available to Palestinians remain glacially slow, piecemeal and inequitable.

With your continued support, we will continue to help save lives and prevent suffering as the COVID-19 pandemic becomes a multi-year crisis for Palestinian communities. In partnership with local healthcare providers, we will continue to evolve our response to new and emerging needs and help the Palestinian health system build back stronger after the pandemic.

If you are able, please consider making a donation today toward MAP’s ongoing COVID-19 response:

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Thank you.

Dr Andy Ferguson

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