Syria has seen a rise in violence and conflict; moreover, not just Syrians are the victims. Syria is home to 560,000 Palestinian refugees in 12 camps relying on aid. They have been living there up to four years or longer. After escaping violence in Palestine, these refugees find themselves in danger once again. Even the camps they thought would provide security are attacked. Aid can’t enter. Conditions can worsen. This can create preventable health problems: unsanitary conditions, starvation and disease. Many surrounding countries like Jordan and Lebanon have closed their borders to Palestinian refugees, making it difficult for them to flee the violence and worsening conditions.

Although it becomes difficult for aid workers assisting the refugees to provide the adequate care needed, aid continues to reach the refugees. The United Nations Relief and Work Agency for Palestine Refugees, or UNWRA in the Near East reaches more than three million people in 128 Primary Health Centers in the Middle East. In Syria alone there are 23 centers; however, only 19 are currently open because of violence. Yet, these centers reach about 80 percent of the Palestine population in Syria. Goals for 2015 indicate that 100 percent of the refugee population will be reached.

The services that UNRWA provides work to ensure a healthy lifestyle and environment. The Family Health Teams were developed to provide comprehensive care to visitors. There is preventive and curative care, outpatient, pharmacies and maternal offices. No longer does UNRWA just focus on the particular issue that brings someone to the clinics, but on the entirety of the health of the patient—this approach to aid is known as the Life Cycle Approach. The goal is to provide long-term medical aid to each person that enters. Doctors are able to treat all medical conditions from pregnancy complications to cancer, from the time a person is born to the time they die. By taking care of person through all stages of life, the hope is that this will lead to a healthier Palestinian community.

The Family Health Teams are made up of several teams that include a doctor, several nurses and a clerk. Each team has the same number of families to treat. The teams form personal relations with the patients, learning about their medical history. Check-ups after the initial visit allow preventable complications to be fixed before they become fatal; this enables the doctors to provide more adequate aid and proper monitoring to everyone. The new focus has seen a reduction in maternal deaths. About 99 percent of the population is immunized, and outbreaks of preventable diseases are near zero.

While conditions appear to be worsening for Palestinian refugees, new programs developed to provide aid for them are showing positive signs. Refugees have access to efficiently run health care providers that provide aid for any problem at any stage of life. The aid has gone beyond just temporary refugee camp health care to a permanent health care system. The doctors and nurses are able to not only combat health problems that are common in refugee populations like maternal death and the spread of communicable diseases, but also create a healthier Palestinian community by treating diabetes and lowering obesity levels.

– Katherine Hewitt

Sources: UNRWA 1, UN News, CNN, UNRWA 2, UNRWA 3
Photo: UNHCR