Doctors welcome life-saving $25m in UAE aid for embattled East Jerusalem hospital

Al Makassed Hospital was forced to close to non-emergency patients in April but doctors are now looking to the future with renewed optimism

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Doctors at an East Jerusalem hospital offering vital support to Palestinian patients have told how $25 million in aid from the UAE will save thousands of lives.

President Sheikh Mohamed made the financial pledge to Al Makassed Hospital in July, with a formal agreement signed last month, in what is being viewed as a crucial lifeline for health services.

The assistance is in line with the UAE's efforts to help Palestinian healthcare institutions, in partnership with the World Health Organisation and the Office of the UN Special Co-ordinator for the Middle East Peace Process.

The non-profit 270-bed hospital, which was established in 1968, was pushed to the brink of closure after local government funding was cut during the Covid-19 pandemic.

In April, the hospital closed its doors to all non-emergency patients as staff members went on a strike over the late payment of salaries and a lack of support.

The union ended the strike after an agreement was signed with the Ministry of Finance to pay a part of the hospital’s debts.

The agreement was to clear outstanding payments, including salaries, but did not meet the hospital's daily needs.

Boosting patient care

“The UAE’s aid will improve the quality of the obstetrics and gynaecology department and assist in the training of medical specialists for all of Palestine,” said Dr Adnan Farhoud, the hospital's general director.

“We were desperate as we were delaying surgeries due to the shortage in medicine and medical equipment, but the turning point for the hospital was the aid from UAE. It will save the lives of thousands of people.

“We had a meeting last week with the WHO about the mechanism of receiving the aid. The money will support the hospital for two years through medicine, medical tools and maintenance.”

The hospital is one of the main referral facilities for the Palestinian community of Jerusalem, the occupied West Bank, and the Gaza Strip. It provides specialist treatments such as cardiology, orthopaedics, paediatric medicine and neurology.

It had 60 beds and was led by only 12 doctors when it welcomed its first patients 54 years ago.

It now boasts 967 members of staff, including 450 nurses and 80 specialists. Each year it conducts 250 surgeries for children, with about 140 procedures carried out by the gynaecology department.

Al Makassed is one of six hospitals in the East Jerusalem Hospitals network and also serves as a teaching hospital and research facility for Al Quds University Faculty of Medicine.

Doctors perform heart surgery in the operating theatre of Al Makassed Hospital. Corinna Kern for The National

“It is the biggest hospital in Palestine .... [it] stretches for 6,000 square meters," Dr Farhoud said.

"More than 600 doctors have graduated from the teaching hospital since 1989. Those doctors play a key role in Palestine's healthcare sector."

He said 70 per cent of patients are from the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Optimism after toughest challenges in decades

Dr Hussam Abu Saa, 58, head of the orthopaedic department, said the hospital's recent struggles were the worst he had endured during his 30 years as a staff member.

“I was forced to delay critical surgeries for many patients due to the financial crisis and because we don’t have proper medical equipment. I think it was the hardest time since joining the hospital,” he said.

The UAE's aid will allow him to provide essential medical equipment to enable crucial surgeries to go ahead.

“We thank the UAE for the generous donation. I’m happy that I will be able to do surgeries for my patients who have been waiting for a long time.”

Dr Hussam Abu Saa, head of the orthopaedic department, speaks with a young patient. Corinna Kern for The National

He said many people who receive injuries in clashes in Al Aqsa and other areas are treated for free in the hospital.

According to the UN's Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, the UAE is one of its largest donors and provided more than $187m from 2015 to 2020 to carry out humanitarian work in various sectors in Palestine.

In October, the Emirates sent 60,000 Covid-19 vaccines and more than 36 tonnes of urgent medical aid for thousands of Palestinian families in the Gaza Strip.

During the first wave of the pandemic, the UAE sent the first shipment of medical aid and supplies in May 2020, followed by 22 tonnes of aid to help doctors fight the pandemic.

In December 2020, a third plane was sent with 14.4 tonnes of medical supplies and testing kits to Gaza, helping more than 14,000 healthcare professionals.

Updated: November 08, 2022, 4:01 AM
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