I was hanging out at the UHWC today, slowly getting the hang of setting up a wordpress blog (any experts out there? I have some questions) when Dr Yousef came and asked me something beginning with “Do you want to come to…” As I’ve said before, I’m often a bit unclear on what’s going on around me here, but I tend to just say yes to questions that start like that. Whatever I’ve agreed to, there’s always a good chance friendly people and sweet minty tea will be involved, and that’s all I need to know…
It turned out that he and some of the other senior figures were going to drop in on three simultaneous free clinic days, two in the Bureij refugee camp and one in the nearby Nuseirat area. The UFWC runs 3 or 4 of these days during a month, in different places round Gaza. The first place offered a dentist, who was seeing 24 patients that day, and a skin specialist, who had 29 people booked. A walk away, lots of small children were part of the queue waiting on darkened (no electricity) concrete stairs to visit a pediatrician, an
orthopedic specialist, and a GP. Medicines were also being dispensed. It was 2pm, and already 250 patients had been seen.
Despite the busyness, they managed to deliver us a hot lunch which we ate speedily, Dr Yousef theatening to send me to observe the multiple circumcisions going on. This was something I did in fact watch in the Al Shifa Clinic in Bedawi, Lebanon, when I was volunteering there. Dr Tawfiq told me then that his position is, if it is done very early on, the babies don’t appear to experience pain. And in fact the tiny little boy I observed didn’t cry, although he did look slightly surprised (as you might.) For this reason, Dr Tawfiq thought it was important that there be no delay to the process, that 8 days in, for example, was too long. I wondered how many of the babies here had had to wait until the free clinic day, with there simply being no money for it otherwise.
Bureij camp has 40,000 refugees in, who originally lost their homes in the area that now houses Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion airport. On many corners of the camp’s ramshackle streets – in fact, all over the route we took today – impromptu stalls had appeared, selling large water bottles refilled with fuel, for generators and lighting, fuel which once again has probably come through the tunnels.
In Nusierat, the Al Khairia Medical Centre is a light modern building, funded by Germany. (This was where the sweet mint tea came in.) It is managed by Dr Suzanne, who wears sunglasses pushing back her hair rather than a headscarf. It includes health education services, and on the fourth floor, currently empty, Dr Yousef hopes to one day install an Eye Centre. Cataracts, he explains, can be treated swiftly by recent methods – the surgery lasts half an hour, the patient can go home after a few hours, and the next day he or she will have recovered sight. “But”, he returns to current reality, “all funding right now is just spent on keeping the basics going, on handling the large scale health care emergency we are facing. That’s all we can do in our situation. Just try to keep going.”
Then he tells me all about how Santiago di Compostella in Northern Spain got its name. But that, you’ll just have to find out for yourself.