SIDON, Lebanon: The UN's Refugee and Works Agency is opening its first coronavirus vaccination center in Ain al-Hilweh, the largest Palestinian refugee camp in the country. Palestinian refugee camps have been seriously affected by the virus, but some residents say they've been forgotten.
With the help of one of his neighbors, Hussein, a 60-year-old Palestinian, was able to reach the vaccine center. A diabetes sufferer, he took his first dose and said, "We praise God that there are those who care about us [UNRWA] ... it is important to open this center."
Dozens of women are waiting for their turn to take the vaccine. As she put on her hijab, one woman, Amira, said the camp lacked an awareness-raising and education campaign urging people to take the vaccine.
"UNRWA should spread [awareness] to motivate the people," she said. Far from the required care and attention needed, the Palestinian camps in Lebanon seem "forgotten" in the middle of a worsening living and economic crisis. Children are suffering from extreme poverty and unemployment, while Palestinians are deprived of their civil, social and human rights at a time when UNRWA has not declared a state of health emergency. The organization has called on the Palestinian forces and popular committees to confront the challenges and dangers facing them.
Palestinian sources suggest that there are two main dangers facing the camps. The first are the ramifications of the Lebanese economic crisis, which are intensifying. The life cycle of camps is linked to neighboring Lebanese cities and neighborhoods, with Palestinians totally dependent on them to supply their needs – gasoline, foodstuffs, consumables, meat and chicken.
The second is the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, with its mutated “Delta variant,” which is spreading rapidly within the camp’s small area, with narrow streets, overcrowding, and houses pressed close together. UNRWA has registered 472 proven cases in its official statistics, while infections are gradually rising and have reached more than 30 per day.
In an attempt to limit the spread of the virus and immunize the Palestinian, UNRWA has opened the first vaccination center in its health clinic in Ain al-Hilweh camp, under the supervision of the head of UNRWA’s health department in Lebanon, Dr..Abdel Hakim Shanaa, and Dr. Wael al-Miari, who hopes that the trial, if successful will be exported to other camps in Lebanon. The center will offer the "AstraZeneca" vaccine for residents aged between 30 and 50, and for those registered on the official platform of the Lebanese Health Ministry.
As Shanaa explained, the inauguration of the clinic, in cooperation with the Lebanese Health Ministry and the Lebanese-Palestinian Dialogue Committee, is in urgent need given the high number of infections within the Palestinian community. "We hope that the response will be great," he said. Twenty-one Palestinians have already received the vaccine.
"We will conduct awareness campaigns on the importance of receiving the vaccine, immunizing the community and attracting the largest possible number of Palestinians in the Ain al-Hilweh camp and the rest of the camps," he said.
He also called "on their children to take the vaccine, as it is the only tool that exists now to combat this virus," explaining that "the vaccine reduces the rate of spread of the virus and the symptoms that can infect any person if he is vaccinated," and stressed that "the center receives everyone, and our Volunteers are able to register those who want to take the vaccine, so we invite everyone to register on the platform of the Lebanese Ministry of Health, and we at UNRWA are ready to help those who are unable to enter the platform.”