To mark World Health Day today, Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP) is celebrating the courageous work of our community midwives in Lebanon who are continuing to provide vital care to expectant and new Palestinian mothers and their new-born babies amid the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic.
MAP’s team of midwives are continuing to conduct individual health education sessions in the Palestinian refugee the camps. MAP is supporting them to take important precautionary measures to safeguard their own health ahead of visits.
We spoke to three of the midwives, Saraya, Mariam and Zeina, about the importance of their continued work and the current conditions and atmosphere in the Palestinian refugee camps.
How are pregnant women and new mothers taking care of their health during the pandemic?
Saraya: “The importance of our home visits has multiplied since the coronavirus crisis began, as many pregnant women and new mothers stopped going to the clinic for antenatal and postnatal consultations unless there is an emergency. Our home visits have become the only source of support and healthcare these women are receiving during this critical period.”
“In the visits, we are now providing advice and brochures related to precautionary measures to prevent coronavirus infection. A few women, on the other hand, are not consenting to have visits at their homes. We understand and respect their decision, and we try to provide them advice and support through phone calls.”
Mariam: “At UNRWA clinics, they are taking very good precautionary measures such as wearing protective suits and masks and not allowing people to sit close to one another. However, many pregnant women and new mothers still prefer not to go to the clinic or outside their houses fearing to catch an infection.”
What is the situation like in the Palestinian refugee camps since the COVID-19 outbreak in Lebanon? What are people’s concerns and worries?
Saraya: “People are worried because social distancing is impossible in the context of the camps due to over-crowdedness and the proximity of the houses to one another. In Ein el Helweh camp, we are talking about one square kilometer hosting over 80,000 refugees. Often, a single or two-room house would have 10 to 15 people of three different generations living there.
“If one person gets sick, the whole camp is likely to get the disease. If we ask them to self-quarantine, it is not possible. They don’t have financial resources and the space to self-quarantine nor the privilege to stay home and not work.”
Mariam:“Some people are taking good precautionary measures, but others are not. They don’t think that this disease is real or that they are at risk of getting it. They are not aware how dangerous this virus is.
“Many vendors especially at the vegetable market are opening their shops, and the market is getting crowded. They are told to close and not work without giving them any assistance or alternative income to help them survive. It is the same outside the camp.”
How is the pandemic affecting people in the Palestinian camps, especially the many who are not able to work?
Mariam: “In the medical file we use, there is a part related to the socioeconomic situation where we ask if the husband is working. Since the beginning of the financial crises and protests, we notice that almost all families we visit have the husband not working or have no secure source of income. The financial situation of families in the camps has deteriorated considerably. Now because of the coronavirus pandemic, they are expected to stay home and not seek any type of income.”
Saraya:“In general, since the financial crisis and the devaluation of the currency, the prices went up, and for many items, it doubled. This was compounded by people losing their jobs and sources of income.
“I think that NGOs and civil society organisations should have a bigger role in assisting poor families during such a difficult time. They should have a list of families who are poor and those who are extremely poor, and they should distribute to them food and non-food assistance.
“The prices are very high now. Many suppliers are taking advantage of the situation and raising the prices, especially for food items and detergents, sanitisers, and others. Many people know that they should be using hand gel and cleaning with disinfectant, but they can’t afford it.
“Many families don’t have food. If one family or extended family member is working, they help the entire family. Also, some house and shop owners are waiving fees for renters as a way of supporting one another. It is amazing how they support and take care of one another.”
What are the priority unmet needs for people in the camps?
Zeina: “Food items are a priority. Also, precautionary and hygiene items such as sanitiser hand gel, disinfectant liquid for surfaces, masks and gloves in case they have to go out, and soap to promote handwashing. These items are now very expensive, and we don’t want people to start cleaning or washing less to save money at this critical time.”
Thank you for finding the time to talk to us and all your doing Saraya, Mariam and Zeina
Alongside the provision of protective equipment for our midwives, MAP is also prioritising infection prevention and control. We are procuring and distributing vital antiseptics and disinfectants such as chlorhexidine, ethyl alcohol, glutaraldehyde and povidone iodine in the Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon.
Source: Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP)