Lebanon: new facility brings better health care to Palestinians in Nahr el Bared
Three months after its inauguration, the emergency health centre operated by the Palestine Red Crescent Society in Nahr el Bared is providing round-the-clock emergency services for inhabitants of the war-battered Palestinian refugee camp in northern Lebanon.
The centre also offers other medical services, including physical therapy and laboratory tests. It was built by the ICRC to replace a Palestine Red Crescent clinic destroyed in the four-month conflict in Lebanon in 2007 that caused extensive damage to the camp and resulted in the displacement of its population of 30,000.
Umm Ali, a 60-year-old resident of Nahr el Bared, goes to the centre regularly. It is the only place in the camp that offers physical therapy, which she needs in order to regain her ability to walk after undergoing an operation to implant an artificial joint in her right knee. "I come twice a week to the centre. Today is my 10th physical therapy session and I feel much, much better," she said. When she first came to the centre, the mother of seven could hardly move, even with the help of a walker. "Now I can stand on my two feet and walk slowly without the walker. I have gone a long way since I first got here," she added.
She said her doctor recommended the centre because of the convenience of its location, and to spare her the hassle and pain of traveling outside the camp to obtain the treatment she needs.
According to senior physical therapist Siham Abou Dabbous, the centre provides treatment for at least five people a day and also offers house visits to treat patients who cannot be moved at the early stages of their convalescence. "We offer different types of physical therapy," she said. "We treat people with neck pains, back problems and limb paralysis, including children who have polio or disabilities of the arm, shoulder and hand."
The physical therapy unit is already fully operational in the new centre where X-ray and other equipment needed to perform minor operations is still lacking. Dr Youssef al-Assaad, the head of the Palestine Red Crescent in northern Lebanon, highlighted the importance of emergency services provided for camp residents: "It is the only place in Nahr el Bared where an emergency patient can be treated or transferred to hospital at any time of day, any day of the week." Whenever needed, Palestine Red Crescent ambulances take patients to hospitals outside the camp, such as Safad Hospital in the nearby Beddawi camp for Palestinian refugees, or hospitals in Tripoli or Beirut.
"We get calls for emergency transport from other clinics and dispensaries in the camp, including the clinics run by UNRWA (the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East)," said Dr al-Assaad. "Only we can provide this service."
He pointed out that since it opened its doors to the public in January, the Palestine Red Crescent emergency health centre has treated more than 550 emergency patients in addition to providing more than 500 general medical examinations. The centre will also soon provide specialized medical services, including gynaecology, paediatrics, endocrinology, cardiology and orthopaedics. "We are now working on putting in place a permanent schedule for specialized physicians who will be able to perform minor procedures as soon as X-ray and surgery equipment is installed," said Dr al-Assaad. "We hope to be fully operational within the next two months."
The 550-square-metre facility also has a well-equipped laboratory where most types of blood tests can be carried out. "We are performing highly reliable tests for which we charge only a symbolic fee. The aim is to make health-care services accessible to everyone in the camp," said Abdel Hafiz, who is in charge of the laboratory and the in-house pharmacy. "Medicines are given away to the patients for free because everything in the pharmacy has been donated. Whatever we receive, from simple headache tablets to more sophisticated drugs, we make available to patients according to their needs," he said.
The brand new two-storey centre stands out as a landmark of hope in the war-damaged camp, part of which is still flattened. Its construction by the ICRC "symbolizes what true cooperation in a humanitarian cause can and should achieve," said Jürg Montani, the head of the ICRC delegation in Lebanon. "The centre will considerably improve the heath-care services available in Nahr el Bared."