On 6 May, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), in partnership with Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) announced the opening of a medical isolation centre in the UNRWA Siblin Training Centre (STC) near Saida, Lebanon.
The opening took place after UNRWA received clearance to operate the centre from the Lebanese Council of Ministers on 4 May.
The opening ceremony was attended by the Minister of Public Health, Dr. Hamad Hassan, the Minister of Information Dr. Manal Abdel Samad, the Director of UNRWA Affairs in Lebanon, Claudio Cordone, the Head of the MSF Mission in Lebanon, Amaury Gregoire, the Members of the Lebanese Parliament, Dr. Mohammad Al-Hajjar and Dr. Bilal Abdallah, the Palestinian Ambassador to Lebanon, Ashraf Dabbour, the representative of the Lebanese-Palestinian Dialogue Committee, Abdel Nasser Al-Ayi, Mayor of Siblin, Mohammad Yonis, the Secretary of the PLO factions in Lebanon, Fathi Abu Al-Ardat, and a number of Lebanese and Palestinian officials.
The STC isolation centre has a capacity approximately 100 beds and is ready to receive people showing symptoms of COVID-19 who require isolation, as well as people who have tested positive for the virus, are asymptomatic or exhibit mild-moderate symptoms and cannot self-isolation their homes due to overcrowding, among other reasons.
The transformation of STC was undertaken in full compliance with World Health Organization and the Ministry of Public Health of Lebanon guidelines. MSF provided medical expertise and guidance throughout modification of the site’s layout, as well as logistics, to ensure that the centre met the requirements for use as a fully functioning isolation site. MSF also provided comprehensive training to UNRWA staff on infection prevention and control measures.
The Centre’s trained UNRWA staff will provide necessary logistical support, including all laundry, food and cleaning, while MSF will support the management of the facility with the permanent presence of its medical staff on site, in order to ensure the proper monitoring of patients and timely referral of complex cases.
Dr. Hassan said: "The process of raising readiness is ongoing. Today we are seeing the strengthening of cooperation with international organizations, including UNRWA and MSF, who have equipped a quarantine centre for COVID-19 patients among Palestinian refugees. We are working with determination to raise the level of preparedness. Today we witness the result of good cooperation that followed several meetings. We hope to improve this relationship to a level that enables us to protect our Palestinian brothers".
“We hope that the work we have done to transform the Siblin Training Centre into an isolation site will help the ongoing effort to tackle COVID-19 in Lebanon and we are ready to share our experience with actors preparing new isolation sites around the country, if needed,” says Mr. Gregoire, “The staff we trained on managing the isolation site are also ready to be deployed in other sites,” Mr. Gregoire added.
Mr. Cordone thanked MSF and the Ministry of Public Health for their support. “UNRWA has responded to the needs created by the COVID-19 crisis by adopting a series of measures, including the transformation of Siblin into an isolation centre. This will offer a safe space for those who need it and cannot find it at home due to overcrowded living conditions. No one who needs treatment or other assistance related to COVID-19 will be let down,” said Mr. Cordone.
He added, “UNRWA welcomes the solidarity and support of all those who made this centre possible. The Agency is working on other installations that can be turned into isolation centres in camps, in close coordination with the Lebanese authorities, the Palestinian Red Crescent Society, the Lebanese Red Cross Society and other local and international partners.”
MSF is also supporting the different communities in Lebanon, including in Palestinian camps, in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. Since the beginning of the pandemic in Lebanon, MSF has worked on a large-scale awareness campaign about COVID-19 in its areas of operations and in camps.
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