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First 100 days and beyond: UNRWA's health response to COVID-19 pandemic

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UNRWA Health Department is working closely with the World Health Organization (WHO), Ministries of Health, and partners in all five field locations to protect the safety of Palestine refugees and minimize the risk of COVID-19 transmission in the fragile refugee camp settings. The following key steps were taken:

• UNRWA acted quickly to ensure the continuity of lifesaving primary healthcare services and to strengthen the health system for Palestine refugees, including through the establishment of a triage system and hotline services.

• Establishment of innovative programmes to reach its beneficiaries under restricted conditions. An e-health system was modified to support noncommunicable diseases (NCD) medicine home-delivery services for high-risk populations in the camps during the lockdown in Jordan. Quarantine centres have been prepared in Lebanon.

• All health personnel are continuing to work and all health centres are functioning with minimal exceptions. Personal protective equipment (PPE) have been secured for at least 3 months in all field locations to protect the frontline health workers and work of medicine procurement is on-going despite global disruptions to the supply chains.

Context

The outbreak of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) was first reported in Wuhan China in late December 2019, and was declared a Public Health Emergency of International Concern by the World Health Organization (WHO) on the 30th of January 2020. WHO ultimately recognized the COVID-19 outbreak as a global pandemic on the 11th of March 2020. As of the 31st of May, there were 5,891,182 confirmed cases globally. Within the host countries and the occupied Palestinian territories where UNRWA operates, there were a total of 2,494 confirmed cases of which 734 cases were in Jordan, 1,191 in Lebanon, 122 in Syria, 386 in West Bank and 61 in Gaza. According to unofficial data from the fields, these confirmed cases include 158 Palestine refugees, including 6 in Jordan, 10 in Lebanon, 0 in Syria, 99 in West Bank and 43 in Gaza.

By the end of January, 2020, UNRWA had already begun to prepare and respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. Given the densely populated, poor living conditions in Palestine refugee camps, UNRWA was deeply concerned about the high potential for rapid flareups of COVID-19 outbreaks in these camp settings. Therefore, as the provider of primary healthcare services for over 5.6 million Palestine refugees across 141 health centres in Jordan, Gaza, West Bank, Lebanon and Syria, UNRWA began to implement measures to protect Palestine refugees and frontline workers. This report outlines the initial UNRWA COVID-19 health response from January until May