Facing COVID at the camps

Facing COVID at the camps

Recovery at Ein El Hilweh courtesy of new equipment and vaccination campaigns

Ein El Hilweh Camp is the largest Palestinian camp in Lebanon; indeed, some call it the Palestinian capital in Lebanon. According to the 2017 census supervised by LPDC, Ein El Hilweh hosts 36,220 people, 5% non-Palestinians. Due to the population density on an area of no more than one square kilometer, it is hard for some residents to leave it, especially the elderly.

It is natural for a camp of such high population density to require a minimum level of medical and social services. In light of COVID, the LPDC decided – after conducting the necessary studies – to establish an ICU unit within the camp to treat critical cases. Based on this need, the Human Call Hospital was chosen as the venue due to its influential role on both health and social levels.

So, a COVID ICU section was established in the hospital and equipped with 6 ICU units. All preparation work required in the section has been completed, and all equipment delivered. In parallel, required training for the medical staff has been provided, and several obstacles were removed, of which the biggest was securing financial support to hire the staff. This task was undertaken and supported by the Welfare Association – Taawon.

Today, the hospital is facing a challenge in securing medicine to open this section. Both LPDC and UNDP have requested Médecins Sans Frontières to provide what they can of the essential medicines. At the same time, coordination with the Lebanese Ministry of Health continues to facilitate the import of medicine not available locally to the hospital.

And as the pandemic continues to impact people in the camps and elsewhere, and due to the healthcare sector losing its ability to secure required healthcare in addition to lack of medicines in pharmacies and hospitals, the vaccine has become the only way forward and the source of safety to individuals, their families, and the community.

Thanks to coordination by LPDC with the Ministry of Public Health and UNRWA, a COVID-19 vaccination campaign was launched on August 24th at UNRWA’s clinic at Ein El Hilweh Camp.

Here, the AstraZeneca vaccine is given for free to those aged between 30 to 50 years. Within the first week, 57 people were vaccinated, and this number increased in the second week to 70 but then dropped back to 60 people in the third week. The total number of vaccinated people was only 187.

By looking at the situation in the center, one could tell that the turnout for the vaccine is low and does not exceed a rate of ten people per day. Our representatives at the center reported that Dr Mahmoud Soleiman, the head of the COVID section at center, said this rate is understandable and was expected due the vaccine being AstraZeneca. UNRWA, on the other hand, continues to hope for the number of vaccinated people to increase gradually.

The costs of operating the center and wages of the medical staff are covered by the LPDC, which also provides a direct registration service in the center.  UNRWA, supported by the LPDC, is set to launch a mobile campaign with the Astra Zeneca vaccine for its staff, covering first staff working in the educational sector at the camps within Tyre, Saida, Beirut and its suburbs, the North, and Beqaa.

The campaign will include all those wishing to receive the vaccination and who are above the age of 50. The campaign started on August 17th and will end on December 28th for both the first and second doses.

At the national level, the number of vaccinated Palestinians has risen to 46,600 (26,900 with the first dose; 19,700 with both doses) in August, compared to 39,500 people in July. The registration campaign continues on the vaccine platform, with a team of fifteen representatives and coordinators covering all Palestinian camps and gatherings in collaboration with INITIATE.

The team of representatives and coordinators have made over 57,500 calls leading to around 21,000 registrations on the registration portal. The field coordination campaign is being intensified with all partners – especially UNICEF – and other associations working on awareness campaigns in light of the poor turnout for the Astra Zeneca vaccine.

The LPDC had completed in the previous phase of the response project the preparations in Al Hamshari Hospital in Saida, providing and equipping two ambulances. Further, an isolation center was established in Safad New Hospital in Beddawi, including covering the cost of improving and operating UNRWA’s Siblin Center. In addition, 17,600 PCR tests were administered, and a PCR test machine was provided to the lab at Safad Hospital.

The response project is monitoring the process of habilitating and equipping three hospitals with ICU sections, patient rooms, and recovery and support facilities in Safad New Hospital in Beddawi, Al Hamshari Hospital in Saida, Al Bass Hospital in Tyre, as follows:

  • Phase 2 in Safad Hospital – 7 ICU beds and 15 standard care beds – already started
  • Phase 2 in Al Hamshari Hospital – equipping a floor with 9 ICU rooms for adults and 5 ICU rooms for children – in the award phase

As for Al Bass Hospital in Tyre – a historic hospital that the international red cross had established in the 50s – it is being designed to accommodate 6 ICU beds, 20 standard care beds, an emergency section, a radiology section, and a lab with its equipment. Plans for all of these are being finalized and will be put out to tenders and awards. Further, four additional ambulances are being procured.

The LPDC is monitoring the continuation of the epidemiological surveillance process in coordination with UNRWA and the Disaster Management Authority and the continued PCR test campaigns in collaboration with the Palestinian Red Crescent.