The Situation of COVID-19 in Palestine

The Situation of COVID-19 in Palestine

24 June, 2020

InterAcademy Partnership IAP is engaging in international discussions and exploring potential collaborations with the WHO and UNDESA (UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs). With these continued discussions, they push for a more central role for academies in national, regional and global science advice systems, Palestine Academy for Science and Technology responded to the IAP request feedback, and filled the survey about responses to COVID19 available here.

IAP is trusted in these difficult times, that Academies should manage to continue their activities as effectively as possible.

The survey was filled with the help of Dr. Amira Shaheen, Health Advisor at PALAST, Assistant Professor of Epidemiology in the Faculty ‎of Medicine and Health Sciences at An-Najah University, and Chair of OWSD Palestine National Chapter at Palestine Academy for Science and Technology, since 2 weeks, and the numbers of reported cases of COVID-19 is updated accordantly.

As of today 24 June, the total number of reported cases of COVID-19 in Palestine are 1311, Seventy two of which were reported in Gaza Strip, which updated daily.

Where the total number of reported cases of COVID-19 in 10 June were 526, seventy of which were reported in Gaza Strip, and status of the COVID-19 pandemic was under control with low number of cases were reported.

Generally speaking the current status of the COVID-19 pandemic in Palestine nowadays is semi under control with more number of cases are reported.  Sporadic cases are reported from time to time with a known origin of infection.  These cases are usually clustered in a certain area.  This situation prompt the government to ease the lockdown. 

Since the start of the pandemic in Palestine, many researches, mainly from different universities tried to understand the social, health, and economic consequences of the COVID-19 at the Palestinian community. A local newspaper devoted April and May issues to shed the light on this topic.   Here is an example from this newspaper; In which the author tried to illustrate the Public perceptions of COVID-19 in Palestine.

Cost and the lockdown played a role in the “phenomenal” of online surveys that shower on Palestinians throughout the lockdown.  These surveys touch base at several topics that are related to Palestinian and COVID-19, asking about economic consequences, psychological consequences, opinion about the governmental measures, as well as gender based violence. During the lockdown, the Palestinian Ministry of Health (MoH) staff collected lots of data, that was a treasure where every researcher at the Palestinians university wished to have an work at.  For this MoH distributed a call to submit proposals at the Palestinian universities.  A scientific committee were composed and studied the submitted proposals. Many researchers now are working on, epidemiological characteristics of the COVID-19 patients, immunity level in the community, as well as genetic sequence of the virus. 

Palestinian Academy for Science and Technology (PALAST) is the home from many research groups.  Throughout the lockdown these research groups in cooperation with PALAST hosted several virtual meetings.  The purpose of these meetings varied based on the group, somewhere to reschedule a real meeting through a virtual one,  others where to just carry only with establishing a new chapters and discuss the future plans.  

PALAST played a role in distributing research grants announcements that were received from its network to the Palestinian universities to drew the attention of researchers to apply for.  By posting the online survey at its website, Facebook and Twitter, PALAST played a role in drawing the attention of the public to it, in order to fill it and participate in these studies.  A virtual outreach to the public was made by posting new updated information about COVID-19 at the PALAST Facebook.

In a pandemic policy makers usually relied at the epidemiology status to take the decision. Ministry of Health composed a national epidemiological committee that used to meet weekly in order to discuss the provided information.  Its recommendations thereafter were communicated through the minister of health to the prime minster, who in turn shape out the taken decision based on it.  Currently with easing the lockdown,   protocols for each sector was produced by the MoH and distributed on them, with an aim to protect the safety of the public and keep the COVID-19 numbers down. 

The current measures that were taken by the government improved to be very effective and helped in controlling the COVID-19 pandemic in a country with very limited resources.  From one side, there is a positive outcome of keeping the disease away, and limit the number of death due to COVID-19, as well as reducing the pressure at the hospitals by early detection, and isolation.  Yet negative consequences were observed mainly at the economic.  This is because the response to emergency was not immediate by the ministries, apart from the health.  It is very important, to document, and study all the measures that were taken to control the first wave, modify the defect in order to be ready for any upcoming waves. 

Different mechanisms were used to provide unbiased information the Palestinian population.  Starting from increasing their awareness toward COVID-19, how to prevent themselves from getting infected, what are the symptoms, what they need to do if they suspect catching the virus.  The awareness sessions were provided by all type of media, private as well as governmental.  Specialists in the field were interviewed daily; public questions were communicated to the specialists through the journalists.  A daily update was made twice a day through a press conference by the government spokesman as well as the Ministry of Health spokesman with the number of cases, the health status of these cases, in sometimes commuting some of the governmental regulations that were left or imposed.   Actually the government spokesman become very famous in this period and people trusted him a lot; they were waiting to hear the daily update from him. At the beginning of the pandemic people were loyal to the government measures mainly the “stay at home” message.  Thereafter, with the deterioration of the economic status, and with a none clear end of this pandemic people start to pressure at the government to left out the lockdown.

In order to convince people with the importance of each measure, equivalent numbers need to be provided.  E.g. when communicating with people about the importance of wearing the mask, this should be link with the mode of the transmission of this virus, and the percentages that could be saved from having the diseases if everyone is wearing the mask, a focus should be made as well at the proper way of wearing the mask, taking it off, and pin it.  Health messages should be provided in a very simple way to the public, apart from that to health professionals.  Transparency is a key issue, and very important to make the public oblige with governmental measures.  At deciding to carry on with the lockdown, evidence on the current situation should be clarified to the public and explained.  Number of infected people per a day, what is the Ro, is Ro above one explain to the public in this case what this means and how this affect their health.  Carry on with illustrating the number of beds in intensive care in Palestinian hospitals and link it back to the Ro, simplify it to convince the people to apply the measures.  At the time that there is no treatment/vaccination to this virus it is very important for the public to oblige with the different safety measures, for these fines should be imposed as well as continues monitoring. 

At the start of the pandemic no social plans were in place.  NGOs that are working in social development as well as the Ministry of social development start to develop plans a month after the actual lockdown.  This was prompt by the returning of thousands of workers from inside Israel, in response to a call that was made by the government.  As the voices of the workers were loud asking who will pay our salary the prime minster call on the establishment of a governmental fundraising charity to help the poor in Palestine to overcome the economic consequences of the lockdown.  At the time, the ministry of social development as well as many NGOs were distributing food packages at the poor people in Palestine.  A note was made, that at preparing and distributing these packages, the needs of women as well as children should be considered.  This actually happens. Of the other topic that were noticed a month after the lockdown is the gender based violence, many NGOs established hotlines which were distributed publicly using social media arguing any woman who is exposed to violence to get in contact.  The same did the Ministry of Social Development, who devoted its social workers to response at these lines and try to help keeping women who are exposed to violence at safe.  At certain point pocket money were distributed at very poor people. 

COVID-19 is global public health problem.  Working together would help in easing the situation and find a solution to this pandemic.  Many research questions were out to understand the behaviour of this virus “genetic sequence”, and it is status in the community “immunity level” by Palestinian researchers based at different Palestinian universities.  However, in a poor country fund is a limitation for the research.  Hence, the different calls that were distributed by PALAST to the universities drew the attention of these researches, they applied to it, many get a positive response and they start their investigations others still wait for a response. (Here we are talking about the Islamic Bank research grants related to COVID-19 call. Many of the online surveys were set up as a collaborative project between many universities in the region.  PALAST helped in either connecting these universities together, or distributing the survey on PALAST Facebook and twitter in Arabic language to reach and understood from public people.