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Drawing on community resources in the West Bank for the response to COVID-19

November 22, 2021
Key findings of an IDRC-funded project in the West Bank — Reproductive health needs of Palestinian refugee camp adolescent girls: From evidence to policy — include the importance of engaging the community in COVID-19 prevention efforts and providing assistance to those in need.
The emergency health clinic at al-Fawwar Camp’s Youth Center in the West Bank
The emergency health clinic at al-Fawwar Camp’s Youth Center in the West Bank.

Responses of various key informants and community leaders to interviews, conducted by Birzeit University staff within refugee camps in the West Bank, have highlighted the importance of communication and community engagement. Many of those interviewed were critical of what they considered to be a slow response to the pandemic within the camps by official bodies, including the government and the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA).  

Local committees played a key role in reaching those affected by community clinic closures. They also worked closely with the UNRWA to make sure medication for chronic disease patients and hygiene and food packages for COVID-19-impacted households reached their target recipients. Members of the community also drew on their networks and used social media to communicate with residents, especially during closures. Despite the camp communities not being well-resourced and having higher levels of poverty, many participants noted that they were not given adequate attention by official bodies, who were already overburdened with the COVID-19 response. 

Closures and inadequate official hours of UNRWA and government clinics made some local community leaders decide to draw on their own resources to try to meet their communities’ needs. One example is al-Fawwar Camp in the southern West Bank, where local community leaders worked closely with health staff at the camp’s UNRWA clinic to establish a response team consisting of volunteers from the community. Initially, their response focused on ensuring that health protocols were adhered to, monitoring the camp and getting food and medicines to those in need.  

The team gradually set up a health hotline that was operated by nurses within the community to provide advice to members and respond to emerging health needs. As case numbers and health needs increased, especially with the reduced capacity to access health services (more pronounced in this camp given its geographic location), community members came together and donated supplies to turn one of the halls of the youth centre into an emergency health clinic.  

This clinic was operated by camp residents with medical training, during their off-work hours. Donations to buy supplies and other in-kind contributions were provided by community members. With time, the scope of services provided by this clinic increased. It now continues to operate as an after-hours health clinic to serve the local camp community after the UNRWA health centre closes. There are plans to expand this centre and to increase the scope of its services as well as engagement and awareness activities in response to local needs. This is an inspiring example of how resources can be pulled together to meet community needs by a dedicated team, even in an under-resourced setting.